“The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”:
By E.K.Bensah Jr
Don't get me wrong at all: I am all for regional economic communities. The REC tag, which they have been made an acronym of, and sound like an unfortunate epitome of African development, does nothing to dispel the idea behind what they are and will become: economic communities of peace with sector-specific imperatives defining what they are. So that ECOWAS becomes the point-REC on peace and security; East African Community shows the way on mobilising resources for infrastructural development and IGAD becomes a paragon of virtue for the way it can juggle peace and security and economic development in a very volatile region that comprises Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia.
When I look right of the continent to Asia, they are struggling with the development of an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. Policy-makers and observers of the ASEAN region believes this is what will spark the take-off of the 10-member group that was established at the height of the Cold War in 1967. Unique to ASEAN—and possibly a terrible weakness—has been the putative hegemons of Japan , China, and South Korea that have never been members of ASEAN, but flirted with the idea, resulting in clumsy formations like ASEAN+3 (comprising these latter three countries).
According to a Senior Visiting Fellow of LSE IDEAS Southeast Asia International Affairs Programme Dr.Munir Majid, when intra-European trade stood at 60 percent, it is only when ASEAN+3 states listed above are taken into account that the figure of 50percent for ASEAN becomes “more satisfactory”. The academic bemoans that “wider regional integration, even as ASEAN plays catch-up with its own economic integration process, has not been sufficiently thought and worked through by the regional grouping.”
This kind of phenomenon is alien to the African continent, where the mix-up is more of belonging to two or three strong and structured regional groupings or, in rare occasions, one. So you will never see a Nigeria being an observer to a regional grouping—it is either in it or not at all. Same can be said with South Africa, where you will find it only in SADC, or Ethiopia, where it can be found in both COMESA and IGAD.
Barring the recent overtures by Central African and ECCAS member state Chad with ECOWAS (it became an observer of the West African sub-regional grouping in 2011) and South Sudan being encouraged to join the EAC, it is rare to find member states outside the continent wanting to join RECs or the AU. It is therefore interesting to read that no less than earthquake-ravaged Haiti has applied for membership of the AU!
AU Chairmanship elections– so what?
It is no longer news that Gabonese Jean Ping failed to make the vote; neither is it news that Dlamini-Zuma failed. What, probably, is newsworthy is the fact that the former COMESA boss and incumbent AU Commission Chairman Erastus Mwencha retained his position unopposed. Strike that—for you probably knew that already; it's the fact that the deputy-turned-provisional-AU-Chairman has a website, which can be found on http://www.erastusmwencha.org. Though in its early stages, I daresay had Ping had a website, he might have been able to make the grade for AU Chairmanship once more!
On a more serious note, before the 7th Ordinary Session of the AU conference of Trade Ministers took place in Accra in December, resulting in Africa—through Mwencha—stating emphatically that EPAs are “not a priority for Africa”, I knew very little about the AU Commission deputy. Since then, I have been tracking him and his statements, and in my view, these are those of someone who deserves to be speaking for the continent. I would like to recommend that for the detractors of the AU, a careful reading of an interview conducted by the Geneva-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD)--entitled “An interview with H.E. Mr Erastus Mwencha, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission” – merits serious reading. Mwencha's responses are of those of someone who appears to know the issues on EPAs, how far the AUC can best support the Regional Economic Communities and the pan-African integration process; and what the AUC has, thus far, been able to achieve.
It's really not about Pax Nigeriana or South Africana, it's More
If 2011 is anything to go by, there's no Pax Nigeriana; the country failed both at the UN Security Council and the AU's Peace and Security Council to deliver for Africa. I wrote it back in August 2011 after the fatal bombing of the UN building in Abuja-and I will write it again.
Nigeria should have read between the lines, reflected also on the 17 June 2011 bombing, considered the many meetings of the INTERPOL-supported West African Police Chiefs Committee Organisation (WAPCCO) between June and August last year, and decided to get serious on encouraging and lobbying fellow West African countries to ratify the 2005 protocol establishing the Criminal Investigative Intelligence Bureau(CIIB). That Guinea-Conakry is the only country thus far to have established an Office du Renseignement et des investigations criminelles (ORIC)/CIIB along the lines proposed by ECOWAS in 2005 is a sad indictment of leadership by a Nigeria that ought to know better.
As for South Africa, the inchoate Pax South Africana that seemed to be emerging from the Libyan crisis was probably just a sleight-of-hand by one of Africa's most prosperous economies to give an impression of super-power status without trying too hard. It thought it had adequately paved the way towards a foregone conclusion of AU Chairmanship. That the country was being backed by no less than the EU's Baroness Ashton can only speak to the mendacity of South Africa's motives.
All is not lost, however, for if one can accept the fact that a building comes alive thanks to the vision of an architect, then one can also probably appreciate that any formulation of a rising Africa can only find expression in a continent that is ready to be bold and take risks about its future. So the African Union should have strategies, which include being ready to explore more innovative ways of financing its integration. The Lusaka Appeal of 2001 is great, but African policy-makers must be more bold and choose to adopt the ECOWAS, ECCAS, UEMOA or CEMAC financing structure—and quickly.
The AU must also begin to get tough on those who fail to buy in to the Appeal, and take emphatic steps to encourage those who do. We already know of the hegemons of Nigeria in West Africa; South Africa in the SADC region; Ethiopia –and possibly Kenya? – in the East? These hegemons, or larger economies, must be encouraged to be more responsible to the extent that they encourage their smaller neighbours, and do away with any kind of beggar-thy-neighbour policies and/or aspirations.
Add political will to the mix and you got yourself an African continent—and by extension an African Union--that has not just been shaken and stirred by structural adjustment and Breton Woods prescriptions of liberalization; privatisation; and deregulation, but one that is fast-rising and more. It is about a continent that can speak of Casablanca and not feel ashamed to ask “Uncle Sam” to “play it again”, and certainly about a continent that is getting its house in order on sector-specific issues of peace and security; food security; governance; and international trade.
The AU's Africa Peace and Security Architecture (APSA); Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development (CAADP); African Governance Architecture (AGA); and more recently Continental Free Trade Area Architecture (CAFTA) are processes of the aforementioned themes that are not to be sneezed at. All of us—including journalists, civil society and citizens—should rally behind AU policy-makers and compel them to accordingly be accountable to the people of the continent for the programmes they create.
I dream of a day when the re-election of each AU member state's Head of State is tied to the progress they make in their sub-region, such that here in Ghana, for example, we can demand of the incumbent government what concrete contributions they have made to the facilitation of ECOWAS programmes, and how much they generated for the ECOWAS Levy. Going forward, citizens and journalists alike must begin to feel comfortable asking these kinds of questions, so that the shiny, new building built for us by our Chinese compatriots does not become an empty shell.
As for the building blocks I referred to earlier, they are more than chimerical aspirations; they represent the dreams of a continent replete with infinite hope and a tremendous capacity for resilience. Forget the Arab Spring, doff your hat to Fortress Europe; welcome the Chinese Dragon, but make way for Pax Aufricana!
In 2009, in his capacity as a “Do More Talk Less Ambassador” of the 42nd Generation—an NGO that promotes and discusses Pan-Africanism--Emmanuel gave a series of lectures on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in facilitating a Pan-African identity. Emmanuel owns "Critiquing Regionalism" (http://critiquing-regionalism.org). Established in 2004 as an initiative to respond to the dearth of knowledge on global regional integration initiatives worldwide, this non-profit blog features regional integration initiatives on MERCOSUR/EU/Africa/Asia and many others. You can reach him on [email protected] / Mobile: +233-268.687.653.