Pulling together requires power of people / Linda Ensor / Business Day
2 May 2014
Emulating Asean, EU integration no small task for Africa, Latin America, writes Linda Ensor
Regional integration in Africa and Latin America has so far largely failed in contrast to Europe and Southeast Asia, where it has been quite successful, international experts say.
A key feature of all regions outside Europe is the disjuncture between official policies on integration and the movement of peoples, and their interactions across borders, they say. Greater efforts are needed to overcome this divide, to reap the benefits of integration such as promoting intra-regional trade, economic and social development, and foreign investment.
The experts were gathered at a conference and subsequent seminar organised by the Centre for Conflict Resolution, which is particularly interested in regional integration in sub-Saharan Africa. The government is keen to promote this as a way of stimulating economic growth and has launched a number of initiatives to achieve it.
A professor at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, in Canada, John Ravenhill, says the disappointment over the slow pace of regional integration in Africa fails to recognise the inherent difficulties involved in the process.
"Successful regionalism is demanding for all governments, whether it be in Africa, Europe or Latin America."
Prof Samuel Asante, executive director of the Centre for Regional Integration in Africa, based in Accra, Ghana, bemoans the lack of involvement of civil society in the drive to integrate. "Whilst we neglect people, we are not going to make it," Prof Asante warns, adding that integration at national level is a fundamental prerequisite to pulling together a region. This has been neglected.
The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) celebrates its 40th anniversary next year but has failed to promote regional production.
West African countries have also done little to promote industrialisation or build sufficient transport infrastructure. There has also been little acceleration in intra-regional trade, which hovers at about 10% of total trade. "This is not what we want," Prof Asante says.
With regard to SA, he agrees the country is driving regional integration. It is important, he says, for there to be one large country with muscle in a region to lead.
Boston University's Prof Pearl Robinson says many African countries are integrated on the ground but divided nationally by borders and customs. Regional organisations are trying to open up this space and facilitate trade.
Mely Caballero-Anthony, a professor of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, says that in the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), the focus has shifted from region-building to community building over the past 10-15 years.
Asean, which covers 600-million people, became more active after the 1997 Asian crisis.
There was a realisation "that if you were to make Asean a success, you needed the buy-in of your own people. This whole Asean project can only be successful if the rest of the population actually believes in what it is," she says.
The whole community has to be convinced regionalism is necessary for security, prosperity and to narrow the development gap.
University of Miami professor of political science Laura GomezMera a specialist on Latin America described the long and complicated process of trying to integrate countries on the continent, often as a buffer against external powers such as Spain and the US. These efforts resulted in myriad overlapping regional blocs but largely failed despite all the rhetoric, she says.
A number of experts are now saying the era of regionalism has come to an end. Major Latin American trade bloc Mercosur has been plagued by a bad record of management and implementation, and a wide gap between its promises and its achievements, Prof GomezMera adds.
"It soon became clear the results were disappointing both in terms of economic and political integration and trade," she says.
Intra-regional trade a key measure of the success of the project remains under 30% of total trade.
In contrast to these disappointments, London School of Economics' professor of international history Piers Ludlow, specialist on Europe, says the European Union succeeded over many decades in establishing a stable, relatively peaceful and prosperous region.