African lament – regional integration too slow

National Planning Commission Minister - Trevor Manual

National Planning Commission Minister – Trevor Manual

South African Minister in the Presidency in charge of the National Planning Commission Trevor Manuel says Africa has a lot to learn from the ongoing European economic crisis in order to avoid making the same mistakes. Delivering a presentation under the theme “Africa and the European Financial Crisis — Opportunities and Risks” at the AMH Conversations dinner in Harare on Monday, Manuel said while the European Union (EU) moved at a fast speed towards convergence “we in Africa have been rather painfully too slow about convergence”.

“In fact, it’s so bad for us as Africans that 21 years after the Abuja Treaty was adopted and set out exactly what we need to do if we want to get to an African common market…we still need to focus on regional building blocks,” he said.

“We aren’t building blocks, I am afraid that we are just pebbles without mortar to hold us together. Its not about EU, not about the US (United States), not about the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank, its about us and the way we relate to each other, and in this context it is fundamentally important that we talk to each other as Africans about some of the hard truths that confront us.”

The former South Africa Finance minister said regional integration required hard work, honesty and convergence, adding that in a global economy, African countries would not be able to survive as individual entities. “As individual countries, we will not make it in the world. We will be picked off and become markets for the rest,” he said.

“So we can’t look to the rest of the world. We have to look to each other in our neighbourhood and understand that’s where change will be driven from. As we learn from Europe we look at ourselves in understanding what we should not do.”

He said institutions mattered both in good times and during a crisis, adding that it mattered for Africa to understand the speed at which countries develop as it builds regional institutions. Manuel said the Lisbon accord brought everybody together in a short space of time without ensuring that each country in the EU was moving at the same rate.

Meanwhile, speaking at the same event, Finance minister Tendai Biti described regional integration as imperative. “For me, with great respect to our principals and leaders, my great disappointment is with the structure of our regional bodies,” he said.

“If you go into the main summit of a SADC meeting, we spend 90% of the time discussing Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The actual reports from key ministers like Ministries of finance, regional integration and trade are basically footnotes that Head of States just sift through.” Source: Newsday (Zimbabwe).

Comment: The sad reality of it all is that it is Africa’s politicians which drive this process – they preside over the regional secretariat’s. Its time to provide the necessary guidance to the regional bodies. Moreover, if the ultimate goal is an African Union, why are multiple (overlapping) regional economic unions being promoted?

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