The African Development Forum III (ADF III) focuses on regional economic integration in Africa in the context of the recent commitment by African Heads of State to create the African Union (AU). The launching of the AU at the Lusaka Summit of the Heads of State and Government in July represents a historic opportunity to accelerate regional integration – a challenge to Africa made all the more demanding today by the far-reaching changes occurring in the global economy. The Constitutive Act of the African Union calls for economic and monetary union. Special responsibility thereby falls upon all stakeholders, particularly the continent’s premier regional and sub-regional economic institutions – the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and its successor bodies, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Development Bank (ADB), and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs).
Economic integration is an imperative if Africa is to achieve accelerated development. ADF III will reflect on the experience in Africa as well as other regions with regional integration, identify the priorities and policy options for accelerating regional integration in Africa, and elaborate the necessary steps for economic and monetary union in the African setting. It will bring together a wide spectrum of stakeholders -- government, parliaments, business, finance, labour, civil society, international organizations and the Diaspora -- to discuss these issues, refine options and seek consensus on the way ahead. Drawing on the political impetus from the coming in to force of the African Union, ADF III will help galvanize a broad-based inclusive process to harmonize and accelerate integration efforts in the continent and build consensus around the key strategic actions that need to be taken. It will also provide an opportunity to launch a process for the systematic monitoring of regional integration efforts in Africa.
In the short time since its existence, the ADF has registered significant impact and rapidly gained recognition as an effective forum for informed dialogue and consensus building on urgent development issues of relevance to Africa, and for agreeing on implementation priorities and strategies at national, sub-regional and regional levels. ADF 1999 focused on ways to accelerate the information revolution in Africa and ADF 2000 on Africa’s leadership challenge to manage the crisis of HIV/AIDS.
ADF III will focus on five thematic clusters: Economic Policies for Accelerating Regional Integration; Physical Integration through Infrastructure Development; Regional Approaches to Regional Issues; Institutional Arrangements and Capacity; andthe Peace and Security Architecture.
There is a powerful worldwide trend towards accelerated regional economic integration, driven by three economic superpowers: the U.S., the European Union (E.U.) and Japan. Propelled by globalization, the age of economic nationalism is over. There are also several experiments in sub-regional economic integration across the globe. The key lesson to be learned from these efforts is that regional integration is a politically driven process underpinned by the recognition that sovereign interests are best advanced through regional actions. Sustained political commitment is therefore a necessary first step towards regional integration.
The strong tradition of Pan-Africanism, as espoused by Kwame Nkrumah and other influential political leaders and thinkers of the independence era, provided a coherent political impetus for the continent’s unity. There have also been numerous attempts to promote political and economic integration during the last 40 years. While this has resulted in some advances in sub-regional cooperation and integration, Africa-wide integration efforts have so far yielded little practical outcome. Looking ahead, Africa’s particular circumstances makes regional integration in the context of globalization that much more difficult. Africa has the deepest levels of poverty, lowest share of world trade, and weakest development of human capital and infrastructure.
In July 2000, Africa’s leaders committed themselves to the creation of the African Union. This is a political project with a major economic component, manifest in the commitment to economic and monetary union. The OAU is to be transformed into the Commission of the African Union. The AU provides an opportunity to rekindle the political commitment to Africa’s unity. It also places the challenge of stepping up the pace of regional integration at the forefront of the continent’s agenda. It obliges Africa’s leaders, at all levels, to consider seriously how to transform today’s important but limited integration processes into a more far-reaching and effective continent-wide instrument for economic and political unification.
Accelerating the pace of regional economic integration in Africa requires a strong and nuanced understanding of similar processes across the world, along with an appreciation of the specific conditions in Africa. In this regard, a number of observations have to be kept in mind. Regional integration in Africa must take on a different character to that in Europe, the Americas and East Asia. It is ‘south-south’ integration of economies with weak industrial bases, which are generally reliant on agriculture and have relatively low levels of intra-regional trade. The roles of Africa’s more powerful countries must be analyzed with care. Examples of successful regional integration elsewhere point to the central role of economically powerful states as the core and the motor for integration. Relations between Africa’s leading national economies and their smaller neighbours will therefore be a critical factor in the success or otherwise of regional integration and in informing programmes to accelerate this integration. The sub-regional integration framework in the form of the RECs is the reality of today. As such, a key issue is how the current RECs configuration can be harmonized to optimize their role as building blocks for an eventual continent-wide union.
The speed of integration is a key factor. To date, integration in Africa has been slow. Achievements to date and future prospects for sub-regional integration must be critically assessed. Additionally, Africa’s regionalization must be seen as a step towards globalization, as a means of better enabling Africa to meet the challenges of competing in the global economy. Moreover, in the integration process there are losers as well as winners. The process will place strains on important economic sectors. Institutions and processes to contain the problems that will arise from these losers need to be developed.
The institutional arrangements have contributed little towards the attainment of the desired integration outcomes, and endemic political instability and persistent conflict have undermined the process of regional integration. The history of integration runs parallel to a history of building strong multi-state institutions. Almost all of the big issues confronting Africa – and certainly the regional trade and investment issues – require stronger and more financially viable sub-regional and regional organizations. Added to this, expert knowledge and understanding are the primary credentials for participating and contributing in the global economy.
Above all, regional economic integration is a political project as much as an economic one: it will succeed only if the political incentives, processes and capacities are there. To date, dialogue on how Africa can achieve union has been largely restricted to the inter-governmental system, mediated by the OAU. This issue was recently highlighted at a meeting organized by the OAU to strengthen the participation of civil society in the Africa Union process. It was also underscored during the Lusaka OAU Summit. The involvement of the all aspects of civil society, including the private sector, is therefore essential for success.