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Regional cooperation

by Mamadou Lamine N’Dongo
Unless countries have a sea port, transport costs hamper trade and development: Mahajanga in Madagascar

Unless countries have a sea port, transport costs hamper trade and development: Mahajanga in Madagascar

The appreciation of regional integration is a striking feature of the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, the document that was agreed at the recent High Level Forum. In Africa, this is a very important matter. It offers new approaches to more effective development efforts and south-south cooperation. By Mamadou Lamine N’Dongo

One thing is certain. Unless there is more regional integration, the Busan vision will not come true. To make economies strong enough to prosper in global competition thanks to trade and investments, policymakers will have to do more to look beyond developing countries’ national borders in the future. Doing so is necessary for promoting the national policy ownership that was already demanded in the Paris Declaration of 2005 and the Accra Agenda for Action of 2008 (see box on p. 60 f.).

In Africa, in particular, development partners have to take the regional dimension into account. The continent is made up of 54 different countries. Africa is huge in geographic terms. Its population density tends to be low, and its economies are mostly dominated by agriculture. Nineteen African nations have fewer than five million people, and 15 are landlocked. Poor infrastructure, high transport costs, scant trade among neighbours and a dearth of foreign investments compound the problems.

For these reasons, regional cooperation is essential (see box below). Regional integration leads to bigger markets with better opportunities for selling goods. It also allows countries better access to the world market.

In spite of considerable efforts, Africa is still lagging behind other developing world regions. Typically, African countries’ regional integration policies leave a lot to be desired. The reasons include governments’ limited political will, the weak institutional capacities of regional economic communities (RECs), inadequate engagement of non-state actors in the regional integration process, and lacking economic convergence and coordination between national policies and regional programmes.

To prepare for the High Level Forum in Busan, two African conferences were held. The first took place in Tunis in November 2010, the second in Addis Ababa in September 2011. They were organised by the African Development Bank, a multilateral agency, in cooperation with NEPAD’s Planning and Coordinating Agency (NEPAD stands for New Partnership for African Development, a programme run by the African Union). Both conferences resulted in a pan-African consensus. Their final agreements stressed the relevance of regional integration and south-south cooperation for more effective developmental programmes.

Mutual learning

Given that regional integration has only made modest progress in Africa so far, new approaches are needed. The principle of “Managing for Development Results” (MfDR) should prove helpful. It requires shared standards and indicators for comparing countries and harmonising policies, both of which should allow backward countries to catch up faster. Targeting of common goals and assurance of greater efficiency in state action through harmonisation of standards and the general implementation of results-based management principles and instruments can considerably boost economic and social convergence among countries of the same region or sub-region. MfDR is likely to contribute significantly to achieving several things:
– It can lead to more responsible and self-reliant action by policymakers in the context of jointly agreed policies.
– It can support the kind of capacity development that is needed to coordinate regional and national policies and implement them through standardised ­systems.
– It can boost interest in development results in a general sense by involving non-state actors from civil society and the private sector and by making RECs accountable to member countries’ citizens.

To get things going, we need a new platform for sharing knowledge and experience among peers. We must learn from one another in a networked way what works and what should be considered best practice. We must ensure that insights shared this way are taken seriously at the regional level.

In this context, RECs and their member countries will have to
– define clear priorities,
– agree on critical regional policies,
– undertake assessments to determine the current status of policy implementation,
– establish baselines against which progress will be measured,
– identify the performance gaps against shared standards and agreed regional targets,
– draft strategies and action plans to overcome the countries’ shortcomings and
– adopt series of common indicators and reporting systems.

Regional peer review systems will be carried out in a participatory manner to examine the performances of the countries in implementing their action plans. Such reviews will be opportunities for sharing experience and for mutual learning between the member countries, and backward countries will be given coherent advice on how to catch up. These reviews will also enable non-state actors to hold governments and RECs accountable.

Capacity building in MfDR systems is necessary to make this approach viable. Governments will need competent staff to act and improve policy implementation. Policymakers must not only be involved in this process at all levels; they must assume responsibility for its success.

Communities of practice

To promote MfDR at the national and regional level, capacity development is needed. Relevant topics for gearing action towards development results include planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation, statistics, process management and public participation. Competence in these areas is needed to facilitate truly transformative leadership.

An important partner for this kind of cooperation could be the African Community of Practice for Development Results (AfCOP) whose mission is to support African countries’ capacity building. MfDR practitioners are networking and facilitating the exchange of know­ledge and good practices in Africa and all over the world. Today, the AfCOP has more than 2000 members in 43 African countries and 44 countries of other continents, including Asia and Latin America. Members are civil servants, members of parliaments, business managers, scholars, journalists and civil society ac­tivists. AfCOP is setting up a website that deals with the topic of Managing for Development Results.

AfCOP’s regional chapters will support the efforts of African RECs to develop their own capacities and become capable of carrying out readiness assessments of regional policies, and defining the common indicators and shared standards required for evalu­ating developmental progress. National AfCOP chapters will partner with the focal points for regional integration at country level to strengthen their capacities and assist them in monitoring the implementation of the regional policies.

This regional approach should contribute to making the Busan vision come true. It will boost governments’ responsible policy ownership and lead to ef­fective and accountable states, all of which are preconditions for inclusive growth driven by the private sector. This approach should allow African countries to mobilise more of their own resources to fund development and gradually overcome their depen­dency on international aid.