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Regional integration

Out of touch

by Claudia Isabel Rittel
In addition to the African Union, which mainly deals with peace and security, the continent also has some regional organisations. They should be important international forums for issues like trade or human rights. Unfortunately, reality is much more difficult. [ By Claudia Isabel Rittel ]

In the past few years, a lot of progress has been made in terms of African security policy. In 2002, the African Union was founded; and its members moved on from the principle of non-intervention that had characterised the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity. New committees such as the Peace and Security Council were created, and today AU soldiers are taking part in various missions (see D+C/E+Z, 2008/05, 212f).

Economic integration has proved far more difficult. Several organisations ­
are pursuing that goal: The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa ­(COMESA), the East African Community (EAC), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA). Overall, there are eight regional organisations, each of which is successful to a different extent. Last year, COMESA, SADC and EAC joined forces in the African Free-Trade Zone.

This wide variety has its drawbacks. For instance, some countries have joined more than one organisation with similar goals. Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda – to name three – belong to COMESA and EAC, and both COMESA and EAC are heading towards a customs union with a common currency. With tremendous administrative effort, it may be possible to belong to two customs unions. But it is absolutely impossible to take part in two monetary systems at once.

In West Africa, there is confusion too. Every UEMOA member belongs to
ECOWAS as well. UEMOA has a joint currency, the CFA franc, which goes back to colonial days, but this currency is not accepted in the other ECOWAS countries. Five of those countries, including Nigeria, have been planning a joint currency of their own ever since 2000. The rollout has been postponed repeatedly because the countries involved do not meet the criteria. However, there is another CFA franc in neighbouring CEMAC. It has the same exchange rate as the one of the UMEOA, but it is a separate currency.

At some point, countries that belong to multiple organisations will have to choose. Helmut Asche, professor of African economics and politics at the University of Leipzig, expects both COMESA and SADC to fail. He believes that the EAC will emerge the winner.

Overlapping memberships are not the only problem, however. Last year, the African Union's budget of around $ 150 million was almost completely funded by donors. “It is scandalous to see how little even rich states pay to the AU,” says João Gomes Porto of the Africa Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Bradford. The budget for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), in which various eastern African countries take part, is mostly funded from abroad too. USAID provides 60 %, Germany another 30 % and member states only pay 10 % themselves.

Competition and distrust

The wide range of regional organisations leads to overlap, both among the organisations themselves as well as with the AU. One issue, for instance, is whether the UN should cooperate mainly with the AU or with regional organisations as well. ECOWAS and IGAD were the first to set up conflict-management systems in Africa. Today, they feel sidelined unless the UN addresses them first. Competition creates distrust when trust is most needed – that is, when it comes to transfering sovereign rights.
States that give up sovereign rights always lose power and control – and that is the base for successful integration. As the example of the EU shows, governments that genuinely want integration sometimes must implement decisions they do not like. Moreover, they have to accept that joint institutions have their own dynamics.

At present, Africa’s regional courts are perhaps the best example of such dynamics. They were originally established to arbitrate in trade issues, but they mostly deal with human rights cases today. A case from Zimbabwe, however, illustrates how easily their rulings are bypassed. Farmers took President Robert Mugabe to the SADC Tribunal, trying to protect their right to land they owned. They won in court, but Mugabe called that ruling “nonsense” and stated: ”Our land is not subject to the SADC tribunal.” As a matter of fact, Zimbabwe is a full member of that organisation.

The political elite sets the tone. But these people are under fierce criticism. Political scientist John Emeka Akude for example says it is a “disgrace” that top politicians are more interested in their own well-being than in that of their countries. According to George W. Kanyeihamba, a former judge at the African Human Rights Court, the problem is rooted in many governments only making sure that they are represented by absolutely loyal people. Under such conditions, he sees very little scope for diplomats agreeing on creative and innovative solutions.

But there is a young elite group that takes things pragmatically. Tawanda Hondora, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Africa programme, is one of them. He points out that the African Human Rights Court was established in 2006 as the first human-rights institution with continent-wide jurisdiction. “We have learned from mistakes,” he said at the Potsdam Spring Dialogues, which were organised by SEF (the Development and Peace Foundation), the Renner Institute, Welttrends magazine and InWEnt.

In contrast, 27-year-old South African J. B. Cronje of the Trade Law Centre for Southern Africa is sceptical. He contends that there simply are not enough incentives for well-educated people to get involved in politics. As he puts it, bureaucrats tend to sideline colleagues who seem to know more than they do, feeling threatened by competition. Cronje notes that clever people tend to join the private sector, with the result of government institutions thinning out intellectually.

In the end, the success of African integration will depend on whether governments ratify at the national levels what they agree to among one other. It will also matter what procedures are put in place for citizens to enforce their rights. As Thilo Marauhn, professor of public international law at the University of Giessen, says, creating effective institutions takes time and “a certain amount of stubbornness”.