24 Aug 2015

Determination required for African integration

Written by  Adekeye Adebajo

No. 342: Determination required for African integration / Adekeye Adebajo / Business Day
24 August 2015

Last month I attended the African Leadership Forum in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam on the theme of Moving Towards an Integrated Africa.

The meeting was hosted by former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa's Uongozi Institute and was attended by former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria), Festus Mogae (Botswana), Jerry Rawlings (Ghana), Bakili Muluzi (Malawi) and Hifikepunye Pohamba (Namibia), as well as civil society actors.

Delivering the keynote address was Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has long fancied himself a "Bismarck of East Africa", with dreams of creating a political federation in a subregion consisting of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda. His address pushed for a larger East African market to increase the leverage of the subregion to negotiate more effectively with external actors.

Citing the high level of cultural integration in the subregion — reinforced by the common lingua franca of Swahili — he called for a political union, noting that for such efforts to succeed, East African leaders would need to explain to their 140-million citizens how regional integration could enhance their prosperity and security.

I had the opportunity, from the audience, to challenge Museveni — who has been in power for 29 years — on the issue of presidential term limits, noting that on assuming office in 1986, he had criticised African leaders for overstaying in power. Museveni deflected the question by arguing that the issue was not about overstaying in power, but rather overstaying "in the resistance" — presumably to "neocolonialism".

Contradicting his reputation as a brash former general, Nigeria's Obasanjo came across as wise, witty and adept at using first-hand experiences to illustrate his points.

He called for a core group of African leaders to drive regional integration in Africa, much as Nigeria, SA, Algeria and Senegal had done in creating the New Partnership for Africa's Development. He pushed for the abolition of visas to facilitate the free movement of Africa's 1-billion citizens, criticised African leaders for talking regional integration while planning on a national basis, and condemned the negative role external actors such as France have played in sabotaging integration efforts.

Some of the challenges within the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) were also discussed: the failure to work more closely with the private sector; lack of effective co-ordination between national committees and the Botswana-based Sadc secretariat; the need for the Sadc secretariat to be empowered to make binding decisions; and obstacles to the free movement of Southern Africa's 231-million citizens, with the recent xenophobic attacks in SA being widely condemned.

It was also observed that some Sadc leaders viewed efforts to secure alternative sources of funding from regional sources as an encroachment on their sovereignty. The lack of time devoted to issues of regional integration at Sadc summits was criticised. Some of the organisation's plans were also said to reflect efforts at political alchemy: a free-trade area was launched in 2008 that represented more of a political statement than economic reality, as no rules of origin had been defined.

The East African Community was, in contrast, praised for its success at increasing intraregional trade. It was, however, noted that although the organisation has had a customs union since 2005, a disproportionate amount of its time had been spent on removing private sector trade barriers.

With Africa's intraregional trade a derisory 12%, the phenomenon of countries creating regional organisations with similar goals and overlapping memberships was criticised. It was further noted that many African leaders are too preoccupied with political survival at home to prioritise economic integration abroad. As Botswana's Mogae — an Oxford-trained economist — noted, African leaders had not engaged enough with one another to discuss removing obstacles to regional integration.

Africa no longer needed continued negotiations, but the urgent implementation of existing plans. There were calls for a "two-speed" Africa and an "inner core" to drive regional integration.

The role of regional hegemons — Nigeria, SA and Kenya — was also highlighted as potential catalysts for integration in need of credible visions that require carrying greater burdens, and even sometimes incurring short-term losses. The same spirit and determination that won the battle for the political decolonisation of the continent must be employed in the current struggle for its socioeconomic decolonisation.

Adebajo is executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution and a visiting professor at the University of Johannesburg

This article was also published in The East African on 22 September 2015 under the headline "Africa's Leaders Speak on the Leadership Deficit Among Us", in The Guardian (Nigeria) on 25 September 2015 under the headline "African Leaders on Regional Integration", and in the Rand Daily Mail on 25 September 2015 under the headline "African Leaders Are Not Engaged Enough With One Another".

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