Africa Braces for Integration

Published on 11th May 2009

Cameroon has been playing a very significant role in promoting Africa’s integration through its active engagement in the activities and programmes of the African Union, as well as sub-regional organizations within this Central African Region. Cameroon will host the African Monetary Fund, one of the three pan-African financial institutions soon to be established as envisioned in the Constitutive Act of the African Union.  

Africa is experiencing a number of major development and regional integration challenges ranging from peace and security to energy, food, financial and economic crises. These challenges call for Africa to vigorously and aggressively pursue the attainment of its integration and strengthen its position in the global economy through, for example, the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers; the promotion of free movement of factors of production; the scaling up of infrastructure development and financing; the implementation of macro-economic and fiscal reform measures; and diversification of its economies in order to benefit from economies of scale and mitigate against the impact of future external shocks. It is, therefore, my sincere hope that this Conference will make bold and concrete recommendations on accelerating Africa’s integration.  

It is in this vein that we must salute and strongly support the conclusions of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Eastern African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tripartite Summit of October 2009, which called for the grouping of the three entities into a single Free Trade Area (FTA), eventually leading towards a single market among the three RECs. But we must not only salute and support the conclusions: We must go further by emulating this laudable initiative, which goes a long way in rationalizing and harmonizing the activities and programmers of the RECs, as decided during the June/July 2006 African Union Summit held in Banjul. Therefore, convening this Conference under the theme of ‘Partnerships and Integration in Africa’ and taking this opportunity to present the Minimum Integration Programme is timely.  

The aforesaid notwithstanding, some positive strides have been made in the area of integration. Some RECs, for instance, have attained free trade areas (FTAs) status and made progress in the area of free movement with the development of regional passports, notably in the ECOWAS and EAC regions. In addition, there has been an increase in infrastructure development and financing, given that infrastructure development is fundamental in facilitating trade in goods, among other things. It was in this regard that the January / February 2009 AU Summit held in Addis Ababa was dedicated to the theme of ‘Infrastructure Development in Africa’. One of the infrastructure projects under implementation is the development of the backbone for ICT in Central Africa in collaboration with ECCAS. 

Further, there are improvements in the area of coordination between the African Union Commission and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), with regular biannual Coordination meetings being held, following the signing in January 2008 of the new Protocol on Relations between the AU and the RECs. In this regard, to better manage the coordination mechanism the AUC/ECA/AfDB joint secretariat is in the process of establishing a unit to support the process. Furthermore, our Heads of State and Government have been discussing the strengthening of the African Union Commission, including giving it executive powers for it to better play its coordination role in Africa’s integration as well as ensure the implementation of African Union Summit Decisions. 

These are outstanding achievements and important milestones in the on-going work of integrating the Continent. Beyond this notable progress, a number of challenges still remain and more action is required.  Moving to more advanced stages of integration is proving a challenge in some quarters. The formation of Customs Unions is hindered by factors such as the overlapping and multiple memberships of the RECs. We need to be decisive, for example, on how we move forward the rationalization and harmonization of the RECs. Overlapping and multiple memberships is an issue that must be addressed once and for all for not doing so risks delaying the early attainment of the African Economic Community (AEC), as envisioned in the Abuja Treaty.   

Similarly, gaps between commitments and delivery are also evident in the non-implementation, and sometimes slow ratification of certain Protocols. The issue of free movement (of people, goods, services and capital) is a case in point, with the initiative having stalled or currently partially implemented in a number of RECs. The perceived threats and fears felt by advancing free movement must be concretely addressed as free movement constitutes a major lynch-pin to successful integration. It is essential that reciprocal efforts are made on the part of Member States and RECs alike to support AUC efforts to improve, work efficiently, effectively and deliver on its mandate.  

Equally important we must sequence and prioritize the integration agenda and guard against making commitments which compromise Africa’s own development programme. The Economic Partnership Agreements as currently structured could balkanize the continent thus making it very difficult to consolidate Africa’s integration. That is why the Commission has prepared a template to assist our negotiators in order to ensure that our own integration is not compromised.   

Integration will not only enable faster economic growth, poverty reduction and facilitate peace, security and stability of our people, but will also enable Africa to speak with one voice and collectively address the myriad of challenges that it faces.  Therefore, whereas the global economic crisis presents some challenges to Africa, it also opens up tremendous opportunities for Africa to innovatively and creatively push forward its integration agenda as a unified force.  

By H.E. Erastus J. Mwencha,

Deputy Chairperson, African Union Commission


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