"The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen":
When the African Integration Revolution is Televised (4), & why Duodu's article must be revised
By E.K.Bensah Jr
It is no accident I have spent the better part of four weeks focussing specifically on another dimension of what I call the "African integration revolution". Last year, I wrote three articles on another aspect that touched on the so-called rise of Africa. This recent series has, by way of backdrop, the non-visibility of ten years of the African Union; with a special focus on one article by veteran Ghanaian journalist Cameron Duodo – who writes for "New African" magazine – and what I consider to be a fairly-biased article that does not do adequate justice to the progress of the flawed African Union. This article is the culmination of three weeks of necessary Duodo-biting—necessary because as a prolific writer on African affairs and Ghana, Duodu could have written a far better piece than he did.
Considering the magazine for which he is writing, it beggars belief the article even passed the Editor's table into the marketplace of ideas. In my view, if this kind of writing can pass muster into the debate on African integration, then we're in trouble. The first port of call on African integration, in my view, is on education: educating Africans and non-Africans about the challenges impinging upon Africa's integration is as important as understanding and appreciating the history. This means that there is a responsibility on all Africa-loving integrationists to make the effort to report regularly, clearly and accurately. The minute we start infusing Afro-pessimistic ideas of Africa's long history to integration into any debate, we begin to change the narrative for our progeny who must come to understand that, yes, there are challenges, but we have come a long way, and must work harder to achieve continental unity.
Today's piece is to buttress that point by juxtaposing it against an article by a less-known author who wrote a short but, in my view, balanced piece on how far the AU has come. Before we get to that piece, it is important to remind ourselves that Duodu's piece is by no means a bad piece, but a piece that merits serious revision by those reading through the filter of what one might call "African Zeitgeist".
Where Africans fear to tread
I concluded my last piece on the visa regime of Africa. Duodu touched on the important fact that Africans continue to grapple with the challenge and hassle of obtaining visas to travel to other African countries. The most glaring example of this is travelling to Addis from Ghana, where one has to obtain a visa! I have made this point in other forums of the importance of visas to Africa's diplomatic capital being scrapped for, at best, "strategic countries", and, at worst, all countries with representations to the African Union.
How is it that Dr.Nkrumah's statue was unveiled at the new Chinese-sponsored AU building, but the nationals of that great visionary have to endure the frustration of passing by an embassy to travel to Addis? It beggars belief! Why can Ghanaians travel to Kenya (a country with which we have less strategic ties) without a visa, but have to swallow hard to make one's way to the Ethiopian Embassy? If this is not an indictment of African policy-makers, I'm not quite sure what is. This is the kind of moral indignation that Duodu did well to capture, but failed to touch on how far African policy-makers have come on ensuring it becomes a thing of the past. Discussions on the Continental Free Trade Area in the UN Economic Commission for Africa's flagship piece "Assessing Regional Integration for Africa V" point to how Africa is addressing some of these challenges, and I daresay the venerable Duodu might have had access to news that a report like this would be launched simultaneously at the AU Summit. A piece on how this publication seeks to respond to those challenges might have been useful for the reader.
Still on the visa regime, ECOWAS is perhaps the only regional economic community (REC) that offers visa-free travel to its community citizens. While it is true that a discussion about the AU can be had without specific reference to the regional economic communities per se, in my view, there cannot be any reference at all. This is the reason why ECOWAS could have been propped up as an example of how Africa has managed to respond to the challenge of travel. This could have been contrasted against our Central African countries which continue to demand visas to travel throughout the sub-region!
Duodu's conclusion that therefore "the AU's change of name could not but be cosmetic" is unfortunate. The claim that "in imitation of the European union, the AU has created the Pan-African parliament" is equally so, especially because it is not referenced against the Abuja Treaty of 1991, which had stipulated that the establishment of the parliament is consistent with one of the six stages towards the realization of the African Economic Community(AEC) by 2034. Truth be told, the Pan-African parliament was supposed to be established as the sixth stage of the AEC, but was established back in 2004—way ahead of the 2034 date. Few people will know this fact unless specialist writers on Africa tell them!
To cut a long story short, it might have been a better idea for Duodu to include how NEPAD became integrated into AU structures in 2010 to become the technical body of the AU—better known as the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NPCA). Why anyone might care about this is because this integration demonstrates that the AU itself was sensitised to civil society concerns of the neo-liberal nature of what-was-NEPAD to have done something about bringing it back home to the AU—where it ought to originally have belonged.
A different take on 10 years of the AU
Tjiurimo HENGARI is the Head of the South African Foreign Policy and African Drivers Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs, based at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. His piece on the website entitled "Ten Years of a contrasted Union: The African Union at the Crossroads or Business as Usual" is perhaps what one might call a vindication of the African Union. Truth be told, it's perhaps a more objective piece about the progress of the AU, and comes highly recommended.
Set against the backdrop of the-then upcoming AU summit, Hengari writes: "it is fitting to debate and reflect how this organization has fared a decade on, both in light of its promise of new principles, new thinking, including new approaches to African challenges and governance. These principles and approaches seek to capture on a wide continuum, the nexus between democracy, good governance on the one hand, and on the other Africa's economic development and integration in the global economy." He touches on governance; and the need to create "the institutional infrastructure and processes …necessary for a more efficient African Union";
While acknowledging that the AU is flawed, he writes that "the AU is still a work in progress and the past decade of its existence did not mask contradictions between what the AU ambitiously purports to be on the one hand, and the structural and institutional impasse in which it finds itself when it comes to achieving Africa's developmental aims on the other. A continental institution is a sum of its composite parts." We can add to that that any institution is only as efficient as the members help it be. Remember how no less than the Un General Assembly last week criticised the UN Security Council for the permafrost on Syria? If a world body –replete with decades of experience and efficiency— can experience problems, why must we expect the world for the AU, which is only 10 years old?
Going forward, the author recommends three areas for attention: the first is how "in line with its theme the summit should put explicit emphasis on the translation of modest democratic governance into concrete developmental deliverables in African countries; second, "more attention should be placed than what has been otherwise the case thus far on the strengthening of regional economic communities as essential anchors in matters of peace, security and development". Finally, "0the summit should provide clear guidelines and principles around leadership of the Commission."
Simply put: "a continental institution is a sum of its composite parts". It behoves all to remember this as we all go forward in our desire to see a more prosperous and assertive Africa that can do justice to the calls for it to "arise". Africa is at the cusp of historic change. The road towards economic emancipation is long, but it is achievable. As for the African integration revolution, it's only just started—and the RECs are going to play a more central role in that revolution.
In 2009, in his capacity as a "Do More Talk Less Ambassador" of the 42nd Generation—an NGO that promotes and discusses Pan-Africanism--Emmanuel gave a series of lectures on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in facilitating a Pan-African identity. Emmanuel owns "Critiquing Regionalism" (http://www.critiquing-regionalism.org). Established in 2004 as an initiative to respond to the dearth of knowledge on global regional integration initiatives worldwide, this non-profit blog features regional integration initiatives on MERCOSUR/EU/Africa/Asia and many others. You can reach him on firstname.lastname@example.org / Mobile: 0268.687.653.