Cohesion needed between AU and regional blocks

BY: Edmund Smith-Asante

The Principal Policy Adviser, Capacity Development Division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Mr Joseph Atta-Mensah, has underscored the need for cohesion between the African Union (AU) and all regional blocks, to make integration possible.

He said the lack of cohesion had resulted in seeming differences on the same subject, which impacted on integration of the African continent.

Mr Atta-Mensah, was delivering the introductory remarks at the opening of a three-day colloquium on Africa’s economic integration organised by the UN Economic Commission for Africa and Third World Network-Africa, a pan-African research and advocacy organisation based in Accra, on the theme “Africa’s Economic Integration: Strengthening Internal Coherence and Resilience to External Challenges” on Tuesday.

“Regional integration is important and there is currently no link between what the African Union is pursuing in terms of regional integration and that of the different regional economic blocks on the continent. Therefore there is a need to establish that coherence between the AU and the various regional blocks,” he said.

The UNECA Policy Adviser said decisions that even the heads of state took at the AU were not replicated in the regional block or at the country level, so it appeared there were differences on the same issue, such as differences on policies from country to the regional and to the AU.

He said there was an affront on free movement of people on the continent and that the political imperative of regional integration should not be lost on everybody, although there was now more emphasis on economic integration.

Structural Problems

A section of the participants at the colloquium. Chairman for the opening, Dr Yao Graham, Coordinator of Third World Network, said although the African continent had witnessed some growth in recent times, there were still structural problems.

He said most Africa countries had remained as exporters of raw materials, although the fortunes of agriculture, which used to be the backbone of the countries was dwindling.

Dr Graham also stated that as the prices of minerals and agriculture were falling, there was that recognition that countries needed to change the structure of their economies.

The Need for Integration

For his part, Dr Fareed Arthur, Adviser (Strategic Matters), Bureau of the Deputy Chairperson, African Union Commission, who delivered the opening address, stressed that Africa needed to know that there was no other alternative to integrating.

He said; “When you look at the continent with varied countries; the only panacea for the development of the countries would be through integration. Integration is no longer political action, but the need to stick together for economic development.”

Dr Arthur said although there were 54 countries on the continent, they had remained largely individual countries, adding that most of the African leaders had become “countrycentric” (focused on domestic policies) rather than the continental policies.

Advocating integration as it would make African countries enjoy economies of scale, he said the AU Commission was using two approaches towards integration – the political and the economic, but the focus now was on economic because people could see the benefits.

He urged the involvement of private businessmen, saying if they could trade in the continent and see the benefits, they would rather be the advocates of regional integration, adding, there must be focus on the youth who have the greatest population than any of the age groups, otherwise a problem would be created for the future of the continent.   

Speaking on the “Political and Social Prerequisites of Integration and Development”, Mr John Gbodi, Africa Union Commission, stated that Africa needed good governance because it was a prerequisite for a peaceful continent.

“If we do not have good governance on the continent that will bring about peace, the type of integration that we are yearning for, we will not likely realise that economic integration,” he said.

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About the colloquium

The colloquium seeks to promote the integrity of Africa’s integration agenda from the threats and challenges of the international trade regime.

It is expected to contribute to a better and coherent framing of the elements of Africa’s integration agenda and strengthen African stakeholder and policy-maker interaction on the African integration and international trade regime.

Participants include academics, policy makers and civil society, while topics to be addressed include Regional integration and Structural transformation; Continental Free Trade Area; Regional Economic Commissions and Integration; Cross-border policy harmonisation and the African Mining Vision; Gender Challenges of economic transformation; institutional challenges and agriculture, industry and mining.

Conclusions from the colloquium would be distributed widely and subsequently there would be engagement with policy makers. UNECA and TWN-Africa are collaborating with the Council for Development and Social Research in Africa (CODESRIA), among other institutions to implement the project.