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A more dynamic and responsible approach to regional cooperation

by Brah MAHAMANE

Rarely has there been such general agreement as we have on regional cooperation, with every decision - maker seeing the gradual emergence of the integrated regional units it shouldioster as a vital step in the development process and regional and sub - regional organisations springing up in the varieus parts of the ACP Group, especially Africa, as a result..., although since these organisations have not always achieved their stated aims, many people no longer have any hesitation in talking about a real crisis in regional cooperation.

One of the leading lights in this feld, Brah Mahamane, former Executive Secretary of CILSS, the Permanent Inter - State Committee on Drought Control in the Sahel, gives us his personal opinion in the following article.

When they became independent, the new states of West Africa hoped to consolidate through development policies that were exclusively national. But they soon saw the limitations of the narrow fields of application, the paucity of the means available and the isolated nature of their approaches - just when problems were emerging as being increasingly interdependent and economies complementary and the nced for convergence and concertation was highlighted - and, anxious to put an end to the pitfalls attendant on such balkanisation, they put their faith in regional cooperation.

It was seen as the miracle cure, a magic answer to the present and future problems of the fragmented national economies and, in West Africa, it saw the light of day with the creation of a whole host of general and specialised inter - state organisations. The initial results seemed very promising, many countries espoused the idea enthusiastically and funders made confident commitments.

But harsher realities came to dampen the early enthusiasm and give the lie to the initial myth.

The first reviews showed that regional cooperation could be a trap every bit as dangerous as the national isolation it sought to avoid, as it replaced national efforts but ignored them in its approach, failing to involve them and doing without them during implementation. Reports revealed a wide discrepancy between the organisations’ stated aims and practical achievements, as in the poor performance of economic integration projects. The initial fervour inevitably gave way first to remonstrance and then reluctance and now there is scepticism and indifference - a serious sign of disappointment.

This is very regrettable, but that, as Hegel said, is the way it is. It is a recognised and accepted fact that, institutionally speaking, the process of integration of the national economies is making only slight, hesitant or even negative progress. But there are still valid reasons for not giving up. Quite the contrary. What we must do is look at the past and be lucid and courageous in our acceptance of all it implies and holds up to question, so we can learn an objective lesson from it and achieve those aims which remain a positive contribution to the common future of the region. But this means another vision and an enlightened faith that stresses regional considerations. And it means that regional cooperation must take a more pragmatic and responsible approach.

A more realistic vision

If most of the regional organisations have failed to obtain the anticipated results, there are no doubt three main reasons:

- aims far too broad for their possibilities and potential;
- structures far more institutional and bureaucratic, therefore than operational;
- implementation planned without any reherence to the rea] needs and constraints of the states and sometimes startod without any real involvement of the national decisionmakers and operators.

One might well conclude that the organisations’ only success has been to provide structures which mobilise resources for the states. But by trying to replace the states in their action, they have weakened themselves in two ways:

- firstly, they have gone about it in the wrong way. They did not have to act instead of or on behalf of the states. What they had to do was get the states to have the same attitude and make for a common approach, to use the same syntax and talk the same language, to tackle things in the same way and make joint decisions, acting along the same lines on a task that was shared; secondly, they have excceded their brief, which was to convince rather than impose, to assist rather than decide, to accompany rather than steer, to back up rather than lead and to encourage rather than complete.

Regional cooperation cannot be decreed. It has to be built and moulded day by day, for there can be no question of striking out what exists with one stroke of the pen. Furthermore, it has to be realised that regional matters cannot take shape without national backing either, for they are the roof of the construction and the states involved are the foundations.

So, if regional cooperation is to be put into practice and fostered, there have to be:

- political adjustments by those involved;
- firm commitments going beyond the simple payment of contributions;
- support systems to give the necessary back - up with identitication, planning and implementation;
- consultation and coordination machinery to ensure the interfaces in operation, monitoring and control.

Yes indeed, regional cooperation means political encouragement and transparency in the joint dialogue between states and donors. The solutions are there and there are real opportunities for promoting it.

The real job of regional cooperation

So far, regional cooperation has not really tried to develop what must be its essential vocation - that of getting the states to reflect on the possibilities of a common destiny and to act to bring about a shared future.

This means:

- identifying a common way of finding those points of convergence in the national economies where joint solutions are called for;

- defining a common language to make for transparency and easier understanding - hence devising a harmonised and generally accepted method.

So the idea of regional cooperation is in fact not so much to do, as to help things get done. It is not to operate, but to trigger activity, organise structures and manage interfaces, a job which becomes clearer in that it involves explaining, advising and stimulating and facilitating the action of the parties involved to encourage progress with the common task which they have set out and agreed to.

The true work of regional cooperation

These are to:

- reveal the successive stages in the process of integration calling for frank cooperation and solidarity between the states;

- ensure that it is always the national authorities which decide-freely-on the future;

- establish a permanent dialogue on policies, strategies and means to ensure convergence on what paths to take and what ground to cover;

- ensure that the national authorities are always the basic operators of the project in hand, in particular by providing the appropriate means;

- ensure that regional aims are always closely relatod to, and the completion and extension of, national ones;

- make sure that the principle of sovereignty is respected in the implemention of national schemes;

- maintain the regional naturc of projects so that the member countries can usc the same syntax and speak the same language;

- manage the state-donor interface as a catalyst of a permanent dialogue;

- provide the states support with their identification, definition’ programmmg, runmng, management, monitoring and evaluation capacities.

A more pragmatic approach

If the new vision of regional cooperation is to be shared, then the dynamic relations between the member countries and their organisations have to change to something which is both more complex and eusier than will be imagined and has, above all, to do with behaviour and state of mind.

This is why, while sticking to the same frame of reLerence, we shall insist, in thc contribution which the CILSS is making and can continue to make, on the emergence of the sort of regional cooperation which is not just a dream, but something sought after, something decided on rather than undergone, something not isolated but shared,with pragmatism the basis for its action. This is whcre the CILSS makes its contributiom modestly and surely’ not without some difficulty perhaps, but with lucidity and conviction. And there is no secret about the fact that our organisation can go even further and do more and better.

Adjusting the sights

The interdependence of the economies of the Sahel and those of the coastal nations of West Africa is forcing us to revise our strategy. We have to be more ambitious and broaden our aims and the actual situation and our natural complementarity mean we should see our action on desertification control, the drive for food security, the integrated development of the economies and the development of the natural environment - in the context of West Africa from now on.

Today, the fact that increusingly well - informed populations are being more demanding about projects yielding the anticipated results means we have to go for stronger, better management of State - organisation, Statedonor interfaces so as to keep the benefit of the confidence which our sub - region enjoys.

And today, again, the nced to optimise the use of the resources that are increasingly difficult to mobilise is forcing us to become management bodies which put up a better and better performance in terms of rationalising work programmes, harmonising methods and refining the consultation and concertation processes. So we have to adapt our approaches to the characteristics of the problems and the constraints of the environment, perceive situations in a more dynamic way which takes greater account of the way things develop and do a better job of allowing for unforeseen contingencies in any solutions we may use in the future.

Reiteration of the fact that responsibilities must be shared

The responsibility for project implementation must be neither exclusive nor unilateral, but shared between the various parties. First of all, the states are and remain the source of the guidelines laid down, the policies defined, the strategies adopted, the provisions agreed to and the schemes run, not just out of respect for their sovereignty, but because of the responsibility, be it specific or community, which they bear in the development operation.

Secondly, the organisation’s responsibility focuses on the running of structures and the management of interfaces. It is in no way supranational and it can in no way replace the states when it comes to the overall responsibility for decision - making or implementation. It is merely a platform for dialogue, a crossroads where ideas are exchanged, a place of reQection, a structure which facilitates matters and an auxiliary in action.

Lastly, the donors’ responsibility, above all, is to ensure that their contribution is a response to the reul needs expressed, that it takes account of the respective higher interests, adapts to the specific features of the environment and encourages the emergence of national competence. This means that there must be:

- a joint search for the main avenues of cooperation;
- outline cooperation contracts which include all the recurrent costs;
- the will to ensure that external investments give maximum returns to the beneficiaries.

These, then, are one or two new guidelines which should now inspire our regional activity and ensure it regains its credibility, creates a new dynamic movement and mobilises energies once again. Regional cooperation must go in for a more realistic view of things and be more pragmatic in action if it really is keen to be recognised as a suitable frame of reference, a credible power of negotiation and a useful back - up.

It will no longer be a cake to be cut up, but a school of responsibility shared and a centre of mutual solidarity aimed at seeing that the States really do ensure their complementarities properly through the sort of harmonisation that is freely agreed to and sovereignly implemented. B.M.