Africa pressed on integration push

26/05/2010 | Thierry Ogier

African countries must push forward regional integration efforts in order to strengthen domestic markets, stem the impact of the global economic crisis and forestall the possibility of a double dip recession, academics and economists have said

African countries must push forward regional integration efforts in order to strengthen domestic markets, stem the impact of the global economic crisis and forestall the possibility of a double dip recession, academics and economists have said.

Pan-regional groups like the recently formed Coalition for Dialogue in Africa (CoDA) have supported the AfDB’s drive for commercial and monetary integration in the continent’s sub regions. Previous efforts have so far brought limited results but the latest trends are encouraging, according to the AfDB.

Africa’s share of world trade remains at about 3%, and intra regional trade flows amount to some 10% of total African exports.

But internal trade flows have been boosted in recent years, which may help African countries develop their own internal markets and to limit their exposure to external crises. Small nations could also benefit from the economies of scale that integration provides.

CoDA, which describes itself as an “African lawyer” defending the African cause, is looking to mobilize more resources to finance sub regional integration. “We want to be more deeply involved in this regard”, Festus Mogae, CoDA’s chairman, said.

The achievements have been uneven, though. Progress in east Africa has been widely praised, but there have been mixed results in west Africa.

“East Africa used to be lagging behind, but it moved much quicker towards integration than the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS),” said Abdoulaye Bathily, CoDA’s coordinator.

Five eastern African countries have prepared the ground for the adoption of a new common currency, the new shilling, although the lingering Kenyan political crisis has delayed the process. “If the Kenyan crisis is solved, we would get very quickly to a solution,” Bathily said.

ECOWAS, which was once considered as a leading organization in terms of subregional economic community, has longed been bogged down by a series of civil wars during the past 20 years, and it has had to focus mainly on deploying peace keeping forces of ECOMOG.

“ECOWAS could have gone further, but its progress was hampered by civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea Bissau. The integration agenda has been long delayed. But now ECOWAS is regaining momentum”, Bathily said.

“Talks towards creating a single monetary zone are very advanced”, he said. Eight countries are already part of the west African economic and monetary union (WAEMU), which uses the CFA franc. “We want that the CFA zone and others find a common ground to get a common currency very rapidly.”

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