Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Understanding the role of UN Regional Commissions

It may not be the most obvious thing to think about when we talk about regional integration, but from where I have been sitting, it clearly looks like the UN’s five regional commissions have been playing critical roles in the facilitation of regional integration. Although it is fair to say that what they do has been presented on this blog through the prism of African integration dynamics, I must add that there is a reason for this.

First of all, I am more familiar with the terrain of regional integration dynamics in Africa. Equally, I am familiar with the noteworthy publication by the UNECA--the Assessing Regional Integration in Africa which was launched in July 2004. I’ve tried,perhaps unfairly, to look for a report by the other UN regional commissions that compare—and have yet to find any.

This does not mean that they do not play equally-important roles. Just that in a region like Europe, where the EU is rather advanced, I continue to question how relevant the UN Economic Commission for Europe is, and the extent to which it has facilitated regional integration in Europe. The same could be said with the Asia-Pacific, and other regions.

I must confess, though, that were I to pursue this line, I might be missing the boat.

This is because the UN regional commissions have been playing key roles in their respective regions. Just because Africa has a peculiarity about it that makes the ARIA report relevant does not foreclose the other important dynamics facilitating regional integration that are taking place.

Truth be told, UN Regional Commission and the work they do is frankly not sexy like that of the UN Security Council.

Let me just say that I spent the better part of two weeks endeavoring to download the last UN Regional Commissions newsletter (published July 2010), and which, frankly, takes forever to download!

It’s a 16-page newsletter that offers summaries of the “activities” of each of the five regions. (http://www.un.org/regionalcommissions /)

I noticed reading through that the UN Economic Commission for Europe(UNECE) seems to be more focused on signing partnerships—be it with private sector or international organizations. UNESCAP, conversely, was looking at an “Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific”—a publication that would most likely offer a panorama, if you will, of the economic landscape of the region.

As for ECLAC (Latin America and Caribbean), critically-important among its activities was the launch of a report entitled "Time for Equality. Closing Gaps, Opening Trails." True to form, this region has been looking at state-centred policies that facilitate integration. There are also discussions on the MDGs and climate change, including a report on the regional perspective on climate change that has been prepared by ECLAC and the Inter-American Development Bank.

UNECA touches more on publications, including an AU-ECA Economic Report on Africa that is calling for job creation to be prioritized in African countries. Equally significant is a piece on an African response to climate change, and the UNECA signing a partnership agreement with Microsoft.

UNESCWA is also concerned about MDGS, climate change, as well as a guide on public finance reform; the facilitation of clean energy, and women empowerment.

Overall, however, most of us following regional integration—as practised by the UN regional commissions—might be found wanting. There are quite a number of things it does which we might be totally oblivious to.

For example, did you know that unlike the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank was established by UNESCAP, and is the biggest of the UN's five regional commissions in terms of population served and area covered?

But back to the newsletter.

The principal role of the UN regional commissions, as per the July 2010 newsletter, is to facilitate South-South cooperation—technical, political and economic collaboration between developing countries. The newsletter writes:

“South-South cooperation is at the core of the mandate of the Regional Commissions to promote regional cooperation and collaboration, through providing Member States with capacity-building, data collection, and the sharing of experience, as a means of strengthening ties between countries and enhancing their respective capabilities”

The piece adds that the regional commissions "have further expanded their role in increasing countries’ resilience to confront the impact of multiple crises."—as exemplified, I guess, by the ECLAC report advocating state-centred policies to facilitate integration.

Truth be told, during the past two weeks I have been burrowing through material on the UN Regional Commissions, I have come to realize that they have a central and critical role to play not just in development but in regional integration. Given that they publish a lot of material which might not be as sexy as issuing press releases left, right, and centre, they are likely to be relegated in the background more easily than the more-“activist” UN agencies like the UN Office on Drugs and Crime or UNICEF In Africa, for example, the UNECA seems to be more prominent because of its association to the African Development Bank and the very explicit roles it has played in regional integration.

I remain unconvinced that comparatively speaking, the other regional commissions have been as vocal. But I am still reading and learning. When I get more, you are bound to find out about it here. But let me just remind you that UNESCAP is a UN agency that is not to be sneezed at. The history books report that since the establishment of the WTO in 1995, it has adopted a less dirigiste outlook—as exemplified by the information on its website that it “advocates for greater private sector involvement in infrastructure development.” But let’s just remember that it is thus far the only regional commission that has been instrumental in establishing a development bank.

It must be doing something very right--and so must the other four regional commissions.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

FW: NEWSFLASH!--UNDP to produce report on "benefits of regional integration and south-south trade for human development" in 2010/2011

UNDP will produce in 2010-2011 a flagship report focusing on the benefits of
regional integration and south-south trade for human development. The report
will assess how strengthened regional economic strategies can contribute to
human development, with the ultimate goal of influencing policy making
processes and economic policies in developing countries.

In order to frame the discussion and introduce the relevant questions, the
flagship report will lay out UNDP's analytical approach to the linkages
between economic integration and human development, which will determine the
conditions - institutional, political or economic - under which linkages
exist. In light of the theory, the report will also review examples of
regional integration cases, and draw out factors that made those cases
successful in promoting not just trade and growth, but also measures of
human development. The theoretical findings and the conclusions based on
existing regional integration experiences will be used to review current
African regional integration efforts and frame the relevant questions to be
explored. The report will then map out African trade flows (intra-regional
and otherwise) and industrial clusters in order to inform an assessment of
potential benefits and challenges, as well as assess current trade
agreements and their potential for extension and deepening

From: http://jobs.undp.org/cj_view_job.cfm?job_id=18580

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Understanding African Integration—Actors and Dates

If one were to look at the landscape of integration efforts worldwide, it would be safe to say that African integration is perhaps the only kind that involves a troika that is fast and furiously emerging as the key drivers of integration at the intergovernmental level. These are the African Union Commission (AUC, est 2002); the African Development Bank (AfDB, est 1963); and the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA, 1958).

As we now know here on this blog, the African Union Commission is a successor to the Adis Ababa-based Secretariat of the OAU, which was established in May 1963.

The AfDB is a regional development bank established in 1964 with the intention of promoting economic and social development in Africa. The Group comprises the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Development Fund (ADF), and the Nigeria Trust Fund (NTF). AfDB provides loans and grants to African governments and private companies investing in the regional member countries (RMC) in Africa.**

As regards the UNECA, which is the African counterpart to the UN’s five regional commissions, it was established in 1958 and by the United Nations Economic and Social Council to encourage economic cooperation among its member states (the nations of the African continent)[2] following a recommendation of the United Nations General Assembly.

Many times I have tried to work out in my mind whether the Asian Development Bank(ADB) for example and UNESCAP have played a role as central as the Tunisia-based AfDB. While it is true that ADB has been involved in the regional integration process in the ASEAN region (http://www.aric.adb.org/ ), it has been more of a duo of the ADB and ASEAN working together, with a limited role by the regional commission of UNESCAP. It is even rather telling to note that a google search of “unescap asean” as compared to “uneca African union” yields searches of 75,600 and 86,900, respectively.

Still, far from suggesting that Asian integration has a long way to go, I think a little bit of the comparative approach helps provide perspective on the progress of an African integration that is rarely given much credit. If you recall my beef with Daniel Bach three weeks ago, it was to do with how he had managed to side-step the importance of the capacity-building and research (through its inimitable Assessing Regional Integration in Africa(ARIA) ) that UNECA has provided over fifty years towards African integration processes, in tandem with the AfDB.

But on the specific issue of African integration, other “processes” that are noteworthy are the following:

1. Conference of African Ministers of Integration(COMAI), institutionalized in 2006
2. The AU-mandated RECs (AMU/ ECOWAS / CENSAD / EAC / IGAD / ECCAS / SADC / COMESA)& subregional RECs(six of them)
3. National member states

Bearing in mind that the AUC/AfDB/UNECA have been frontline intergovernmental actors facilitating regional integration, with COMAI playing a secondary but important ancillary role to African integration, we can already see that in understanding African integration, the devil is truly in the detail of these processes.

This is because the picture is far from complete when you look at these actors in isolation. COMAI, for example, has been operating at the intergovernmental level in a context of REC-rationalization since 2006, when it was institutionalized. One can speculate whether without the rationalization of the Regional Economic Communities, the regularity of the meetings would have been established.

The eight AU-mandated RECs have been operating as legal personalities in their own right as well, creating action plans and attempting to implement REC-specific plans. As to whether they have cognizant of how their plans sit with the African Economic Community is less clear. In fact, we can speculate that it is virtually non-existent.

Now that we have a fair idea of who the actors are, allow me to remind you of the key 10 dates necessary to obtain an insight of African integration. These are:

1. 25 May, 1963. This is when the OAU was established.

2. December 1976 –In what is now the DRC, Ministers of the then-OAU decided to establish an African Common Market as a prelude to the African Economic Community

3. June 1991 – Treaty establishing the African Economic Community (AEC) is established

4. May 1994 – AEC starts operating as a continental framework for African integration

5. 9 September 1999 – Sirte Declaration (Libya) encourages the speeding up of continental unity

6. July 2001 – NEPAD is established in Lusaka

7. July 2002 – OAU is disbanded in Durban, South Africa to be replaced by the African Union(AU)

8. 2006:
a. March, OUGADOUGOU -- Institutionalization of Conference of African Ministers on Integration (COMAI)
b. July, The GAMBIA – AU Seventh Ordinary Session (Summit) decides to recognize 8 regional economic communities (RECS). Puts a moratorium on any other RECs [6-7-8]

9. July 2007 -- AU Grand Debate on Union Government, ACCRA

10. 2009 – first phase of Minimum Integration Programme commences under the ambit of the AU Strategic Action Plan (2009-2012)

**thanks, WIKIPEDIA!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Understanding the Relationship between the AU, Africa's RECs and the African Economic Community(AEC)

If you are new to this blog, you might not know that I like to go on a bit...especially about regional integration;-))

Seriously, in my estimation, it is a fascinating discipline of international relations(IR) that's ever-so-ramifying, and ever-so-complex.

It's ramifying because of the various dimensions to it (c.f. the five different kinds of regional integration that exist, and the implications they have for the development of any kind of integration project), and complex because the more answers you get, the more questions arise!

Take the case of the African Union, the African Economic Community, and the Regional Economic Communities.

So we already know of the African Union.

This year, it celebrates its year of Peace and Security. It has an interesting website on http://www.makepeacehappen.net, where it is counting down to 21 September--the day of Peace. We also know that Uganda suffered a carnage on the last day of the FIFA 2010 World Cup because Al-Shabaab wanted to punish that country for sending troops to Somalia for the AU's Mission in Somalia

Last week I touched on the "rationalisation of the Regional Economic Communities". where I offered a brief historical survey as to how and why Africa, in its discourse on integration, likes to talk about "regional economic communities". The key year to remember is 2006--an important year for discussions and implementations on RECs.

What about the African Economic Community? (AEC)

I'd be happy to hear what you know of it--or don't.

I'm always operating from the assumption that what I offer here is assisting in building up the knowledge of someone, somewhere. So give me my soapbox, please!

Truth be told, the AEC is already in operation, and has been since May 1994. The Treaty establishing the AEC was signed in ABuja, Nigeria in 1991. The AEC offers a framework for continental integration. The RECS are mere building blocs towards the full realisation of the AEC.

As regards the AEC, it has set no less than SIX stages to be fully operational. Starting from 1994, it has allowed 34 years for FULL political and economic integration. That makes 2018/2019 an important year. So, if we're lucky, by 2020, the African Economic Community should be fully operational, with the 8 AU-recognised RECs possibly subsumed under regions of North, Central, East, South and West African Economic Communities.

I believe the reality to be very different by 2020. As RECs gain prestige in their comparative advantages of peace/conflict management; infrastructure, etc, they would be wont to maintain themselves as legal personalities in their own right, and not necessarily want to subsume their staff and competencies under one sub-regional economic community!

If what Ghanaian lawyer and academic Dr.Richard Frimpong Oppong says is anything to go by in his fantastic piece "the african union, the african economic community and africa's regional economic communities", given that the African Economic Community does not have a legal personality--that is to say that it has rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and liabilities under law, just as natural persons (humans) do--it already makes the framework upon which the African Union operates rather shaky and tenuous.

This is because while there is a protocol establishing the relationship between the AEC and RECs, "to what extent are the RECs bound by decisions of the AEC? Since the RECs, which have their own legal personality, are not parties to the AEC Treaty, what is the legal basis for assuming that they will merge and form the African Economic Community?"[italics are that of Dr.Oppong in his piece on p.94]

In my opinion, this is the crux of his piece--and a very important one at that too. Even more important is "rationalising", if you will, the relationship between the AEC and RECs as they progress and advance in their development. This other important point ought not to be lost on us mere mortals and students as we cogitate over the future of African integration and where the AU is going.

In my view, Dr.Oppong has opened up a whole new can of worms around African integration--some of which I will for sure be touching on over the next couple of weeks.

Can you blame me when I continue to search for the elusive quest of a critical and progressive look at regional integration, and still claim that it is ever-ramifying?