East Africa Re-integration: Opportunities and Challenges
The actualisation of the East African Community Common Market is arguably the most critical step in our regional integration efforts in East Africa. Murmurs of the Kenyan business community aside, the Samia peasant is no longer called a smuggler when she takes a bag of maize across River Sio. The Maasai can now ignore the “artificial” border at Loitokitok in search of pasture with little let or hindrance. A Muganda farmer can take his matooke across to the neighbour across Mutukula border without having to look sideways. Or can they?
|Mr Ong'wen speaks to East African youth|
The steady, albeit grudging recourse towards regionalist thinking among the ruling elite in the Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda is without doubt a welcome strut in the wake of contemporary international relations.
On a global level it rides on the crest of a wave increasingly being referred to as the new regionalism. This wave is mainly, if not exclusively, typified by an ever-increasing geographic scope, demographic diversity, historical fluidity and a cocktail of driving forces and actors.
Both as a critical response to and a possible principle of order in a world perilously globalising under the impetus of a hegemonic bend of the Washington Consensus, appreciating the historical import of regionalism in general and East African re-integration in particular, requires that we take a fresh but tentative look beyond simple state-centric notions of regional integration and instead strive to bring other non-state actors into a more innovative analysis.
We bear in mind a range of heterogeneous relationships and interactions among entrepreneurial and sub-national actors. To be persuaded, it all depends on where we place the milestone. Our point of departure, however, is that the complexity and over-determination of the processes of contemporary regionalisation calls for new learning of old lessons. First, we must re-learn integration.
Integration means different things to different people. For some, it is an all-embracing union of contiguous countries and includes both economic and political areas. The United States of America, the United Kingdom and the former Soviet Union are perfect examples of this type of integration. For others, it is agreement among a group of independent, sovereign – sometime competing – countries to remove various kinds of trade barriers. In between these two extremes lie numerous types of arrangements. Needless to state, in all these arrangements, the overarching concern is the formation of a body with a common purpose, usually to maximise human welfare.
Integration is therefore not an end in itself. It is a means to further economic and social progress and enhance the welfare of the people of integrating partner countries. Integration in Africa has been driven by two competing forces – one internal and the other external.
Internal impulsion to integration of African economies has been provided by the realisation that the continent has over the centuries suffered wanton exploitation of its natural, material, human and financial resources at the hands of imperialist forces. The global economic arrangement since the 15th Century has defined for Africa its place in the international economic division of labour – to produce and export primary commodities in line with its perceived comparative advantage. Value adding by way of processing, manufacturing, packaging, branding etc. is, in this division of labour, left to industrialised countries.
We aver therefore that the motivation for internally-driven integration should derive from the following expected benefits: more efficient use of the region’s capital, labour and natural resources, which are often less than optimally utilized nationally and has been exploited extensively by the industrialized countries; developing the market, so that instead of fighting and bending backward to be ‘granted’ access to the markets of the North, Africa can begin producing first and foremost for its own markets; and reduced costs of transaction within the region, as a result of reductions in tariff and non-tariff barriers. This reduces monopolistic profits and leads to efficiency gain within the market. This is what we need to aspire to in the EAC Common Market.
External interests also push for regional integration in Africa but for different reasons. The overarching motivation for externally-induced regional integration is to maintain the historical division of labour that assigns Africa the role of green field that feeds Northern industry with raw materials. External forces of integration see the countries of the region as high-tech, low-value ghettoes; raw material reservoirs; entry points for multilateral negotiations (as is the case for EAC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement); and captive markets.
The contemporary wave of regionalisation therefore needs no longer be understood as distinct and peremptory alternatives to the national projects. To be sure, it is better explained as an instrument enhancing or protecting the role of the nation state and the attendant governmental capacity in a world of unequal interdependence rather than supplanting or negating the spirit of national sovereignty. To be continued
By Mr. Oduor Ong’wen.
Country Director, SEATINI Kenya.
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