Cover Image
close this bookThe Courier N° 142 - Nov - Dec 1993 - Dossier: Regional Integration - Country Reports: The Gambia -Tanzania (EC Courier, 1993, 96 p.)
close this folderDossier: Regional Integration
View the documentRegional Integration
View the documentRegional integration in Africa, a path strewn with obstacles
View the documentIntegration 'through the market' high costs and risks of failure
View the documentIntegration: from words to deeds
View the documentInformal trade and regional integration
View the documentEconomic integration and structural adjustment and their interdependence
View the documentFacilitating cross-border trade and investment
View the documentLessons of the European process
View the documentFinancial strife for inter-African organisatons
View the documentECOWAS: progress steady, but problems aplenty
View the documentPort services for landlocked countries
View the documentThe South Pacific islands - Tackling the challenges together
View the documentRegional cooperation through the Lomé Conventions

Integration: from words to deeds

by Geert LAPORTE

At the end of the 1980s almost none of the targets of the Lagos Plan of Action of the Organisation of African Unity (1980) for the gradual establishment of an African Common Market had been achieved. The Treaty of Abuja, signed at the OAU Summit in June 1991, set a new date for the attainment of a pan-African Economic Community, in 2025. This ambitious goal is to be reached in six steps. It starts with the strengthening of the existing sub-regional communities (ECOWAS, PTA, UDEAC, etc.) and should culminate, in a time-frame of 34 years (there are still 32 left), in the establishment of an African Economic Community with 52 States and more than 600 million inhabitants. The institutional implications are impressive. The politico administrative machinery that will be put in place is almost a copy of the institutional framework of the European Communities, with a Council of Ministers, an Economic and Social Committee, a Court of justice and a pan-African Parliament, at a time when many African countries are still ruled by military governments.

The very ambitious Abuja construction does not take sufficient account of the actual political, economic and cultural realities of the African continent. It starts from the assumption that once you set goals for regional integration and cooperation (RIC), implementation will follow automatically. Earlier experiences, however, in the African context, have indicated that when it comes to putting proposals into practice, serious problems arise.

The most critical issue of the Abuja treaty will therefore be to move from prescription to action. Conviction, as expressed by the OAU, without the power to implement, and recommendations without the determination and means to act, are words on a page, which are soon consigned to the archives. It is precisely this lack of implementation that has dramatically undermined the credibility of RIC processes in Africa.

That is why one of the most crucial and urgent questions that should be addressed is how to gradually establish community machinery which will enable important decisions to be more readily taken and, when taken, implemented without delay or dilution. Unfortunately, there appears to be little operational guidance on how to manage and organise a process of RIC, how implementation can be carried out in the most effective way and what requirements need to be met.

Without overlooking the essential role that can be played by regional organisations, we are of the opinion that policies and institutional requirements for RIC at the national level have tended to be somewhat disregarded in the debate on RIC in Africa. The importance of what is being done at the national level for any effective regional cooperation agreement is clearly illustrated by a UNDP quote, which goes: 'the effectiveness of any regional initiative depends on how it is perceived, accepted, and implemented at l the national level.'

How is one to bridge the enormous implementation gap? How can one move from words to deeds?

Five interrelated key issues, in our l view, play a major role in moving forward in the implementation process. These are: - strong and sustained political commitment;

- strengthening institutional capacity building;

- involvement of major economic actors | and civil society at large;

- the choice for functional cooperation | arrangements' and

- support by the international donor community.

Strong and sustained political commitment

The real starting point of any RIC is political will. The essence of political will can be described as a determination to search for a solution that leads to cooperation or integration despite the obstacles. The history of RIC in Africa shows that political considerations do much to explain the slow progress in implementing measures agreed upon in the regional context.

This view is clearly supported by the paper of the European Commission presented at the Kampala meeting of the Global Coalition for Africa: 'The most crucial factor in regional integration and cooperation is strong and sustained political commitment to keeping to the agreed regional agenda. This makes the African political leaders key figures in cooperation and integration. It is their decisions which will determine the role of the regional organizations and institutions, as well as that of the private sector. Likewise, it is their decisions and commitment to succeed which will determine the response of the international community.' Commitment expressed to RIC programmes at regional fore becomes very difficult to implement once their practical implications, such as the fear of loss of national sovereignty and control, become evident. When governments and politicians do not benefit from RIC schemes, cooperation attempts will not be seriously pursued and mutually agreed policy decisions will not be implemented in member countries.

If the political leadership does not send to meetings officials who have the appropriate expertise on the issues to be discussed, it cannot be expected that, upon their return, action will be taken to implement decisions or to set aside funds for the implementation of programmes adopted. Meetings of regional organisations thus easily become 'talking shops' and their conclusions and recommendations do not go beyond the stage of wishful thinking.

Continuity of commitment to RIC will largely be determined by the perceived personal and national advantages and disadvantages of integration by the political leadership and populations. In order to strengthen support for integration, the workshop on the promotion of regional cooperation and integration in sub-Saharan Africa, held in Florence, has suggested conducting a fuller assessment of the costs and benefits of integration. The question can be raised, however, whether, in the African context, the scarcity of statistical data allows for reliable cost-benefit calculations. Here again some basic work needs to be done.

Strengthening institutional and managerial capacity

A basic prerequisite in drawing up plans for RIC is to look at the skills required to make them a reality. In the case of Africa one is even tempted to assume that the greater the diversity and the larger the group of countries that participate in RIC initiatives, the more management skills will be required. As indicated earlier, most analyses of RIC schemes, especially in the African context, have, almost automatically, concentrated on the role and functioning of institutions at me regional level.

Proliferation, duplication of functions, conflicts over mandates and arrears in government contributions have had the effect that the more than 200 African RIC institutions find it difficult to implement the tasks assigned to them. A genuine rationalisation of the numerous regional organisations in Africa is greatly needed.

Strategies to reinforce and rationalise the existing regional institutional framework have been discussed in various fore. The most visible initiatives in Africa are those taken by the pan-African organisations, such as the OAU, ADB and ECA, in evaluating the performance and recommending the restructuring, merging or abolition of some of the regional organisations. This field of action should be further explored by the appropriate bodies.

Neglected aspects, in our view, are the essential strong institutions and managerial skills at me national level for the implementation of the large and increasingly diverse number of conclusions and recommendations formulated within RIC schemes. What do countries have to do to gear up their administrative system for RIC? What capacities are required and who will provide these? Few - if any - African countries seem to have such institutional capacities. A well-structured national apparatus capable of coordinating their involvement in different regional organisations, is vital if they are to exercise a multiplicity of new tasks and roles. Establishing national integration structures in each country will make for better coordination among member states and would facilitate implementation of decisions. It will also make for quicker decisions. Arguably this will lead to easier consultation and harmonisation at the subregional level.

Most EC member countries have developed public management capacities for managing RIC processes. These, however, need to be upgraded continuously to sustain the European RIC process. As an example one could refer to the clear coordinating procedures that are needed in order to work out compromises at the country level. Most EC I Member States have forms of interministerial coordination on an almost permanent basis at the Cabinet level (the I standing CabinetCommittee) and at the level of the civil servants who are involved in European affairs (the Interdepartmental Coordinating Committee). What are the prospects in the African context? What are the public management reforms required at the national level ? Ministries for regional cooperation or integration in Africa might constitute a first step in the direction of better RIC management such as better coordination; but in the rare cases where these exist, they tend to be window-dressing ministries without real coordinating power or appropriate staffing. Whether it is called the Ministry of RIC or just the Ministry I for Foreign Affairs, the key issue is that here should be some coordinating machinery in the government (Presidency, National Coordinating Commission, ! etc.) responsible for coherence and consistency in regional affairs.

RIC also requires a coordinated effort and permanent interaction between the national and regional levels. The interface level is therefore equally important. With a view to bringing about greater convergence between the national development policies of Member States and the objectives of integration groupings, inter linkages are considered of prime importance: 'One important theme under pinning efforts to strengthen intra-African economic integration and cooperation would be the strengthening of the link between national and regional development policies and programmes.' Hence, the need to strengthen consultation and coordination machinery between both levels. In the European context, this role is played by the Permanent Representatives, who provide feedback to their national administrations and perform a bridge-building function between I national policy and Community policy.

Capacity building, too, has been diagnosed as one of the most critical subject areas for economic development and RIC processes. The World Bank puts it bluntly: 'More access to information on other African countries, more exposure to them, and more education about them are vital parts of the process.'

Human resource development and administrative, technical and research capacities are indeed fundamental in any strategy to promote regional cooperation. Training of government officials and technocrats at both the national level and the level of secretariats charged with implementing regional policies as well as finding ways to motivate them, are key factors that may help to achieve the objective of RIC. A critical mass of very dedicated people within the adrninistration is needed to ensure continuity. Exchange programmes and increased contacts at the personal level may also play a major role in building support for regional cooperation initiatives and in creating a common language between protagonists and stakeholders - both public and private - in the countries concerned.

Among the capacities required, there is also information management. There is an acute lack of awareness of what other African countries can offer to substitute for the products presently being imported from developed countries. Institutionalised access to and quick transmission of information on rules and regulations implemented in partner countries and on bureaucratic procedures, publications of standardised statistical data etc. may lay the groundwork for effective RIC. Finally, institutional steps should also be taken to ensure that where a decision is duly taken (e.g. by Heads of Government Conferences), Member States give legal effect to it.

Involvement of major economic actors and civil society

RIC is not just a matter of national governments international organisations. It cannot be imposed solely from above, but must be a commonly felt necessity supported by public consent. It is agreed that since RIC is a means of improving the standard of living of the largest possible section of society, civil society should not be left out of the debate. The relative neglect of the wide diversity of nongovernmental social and economic operators (private associations, business groups, chambers of commerce, employers' associations, trade-unions, media, women's associations, religious groups) is probably one of the major causes of the lack of progress in economic development and RIC. It is felt that treaties or articles of association are the private property of a few politicians and civil servants. Nobody else reads or knows of them. Partly because of the lack of democratisation, pressure groups have not been involved and leadership has failed to explain fully to ordinary people the reasons for participating in RIC and the advantages that may flow from it. It has to be admitted that if an integration process remains a bureaucratic affair and the people are not really convinced of its usefulness, it is unlikely to succeed.

Civil society can therefore be seen as the barometer of the real effects of RIC measures. This goes in particular for the private sector, both formal and informal, whose role is recognised as being fundamental in the RIC process. The European industries, organised at a sectoral level, have been major lobbying forces in accelerating the European integration process.

Functional cooperation arrangements

Market integration is one of several possible approaches to regional cooperation. As the time does not yet seem to be ripe in Africa for this type of integration, involving the surrender of sovereignty in part or in whole, one could aim at sharing sovereignty, exercising this collectively in very specific areas. Rather than striving at once for strong and independent supranational institutions with considerable powers and their own resources, one of the lessons of the past is that less ambitious, more flexible institutional setups may have more potential because of their responsiveness to Member States' priorities and interests. This implies lessbinding project-oriented and functional cooperation schemes, involving action on certain themes or in certain sectors that offer some immediate benefits. There is a tendency to believe that these types of pragmatic institutional arrangement with realistic and well defined objectives responding to specific short-term needs may offer better prospects. There are some true successes, for instance in the fields of education, environment, food security, and transport and communications, (e.g. PANAFTEL). It would be useful to build on these when deciding on further action.

The emphasis would then lie more on coordination of policies than on integration, allowing countries to keep their autonomy in terms of economic policy, but at the same time to cooperate in areas where they perceive a need to do so because the lower the profile of the regional arrangements and the smaller the size of their secretariats, the less likely the ruling elites are to perceive them as encroaching on national sovereignty.

This type of gradualist and pragmatic approach offers better prospects of reducing difficulties linked to the disttibution of costs and benefits since it concentrates on those areas which bring benefit to a majority of participating countries. It may be worth remembering that the present European Community stems from a similar type of modest approach in certain sectors (coal and steel).

The supportive role of the donor community

The primary responsibility for arriving at effective RIC schemes rests with the governments and populations of the countries concerned. However, given the magnitude of the problems and the very limited resources of most African countries, there is a need for substantial international support to supplement their own efforts. External financial and technical cooperation can play a catalytic role (activities in sectors such as communications, transport, education, awareness raising and training programmes) if these types of aid start from the developing countries' own priorities and efforts and avoid formulating so-called solutions from outside. Care should, however, be taken that RIC, in the same ways as good governance, does not become another donor-imposed condition or that international donors display a greater enthusiasm for RIC than African countries do themselves. Furthermore, donors i need to look not just at how their I development cooperation policies may promote RIC but also at how their other policies (e.g. the common agricultural and food aid policies of the EC) under mine or support RIC and efforts to move towards sectoral policy harmonisation a' the regional level. These are importan areas of interaction which need to be addressed if the list of obstacles to RIC to be reduced.


Action in many fields needs to be undertaken to make RIC in Africa work From the above analysis it becomes evident that institutional requirements and managerial capacities for RIC at the national and interface levels seem to some degree to be left out of the discussions. Hence, ECDPM will concentrate future research in the field of RIC on the institutional and managerial capacities for implementing RIC agreements at the national and interface levels and on the more pragmatic and incremental RIC schemes which hold out the best chances of success. Attention will also be devoted to the specific contributions donors can make towards promoting RIC, and more specifically towards strengthening the institutional capacities and human resources for RIC.