Africa remains weak, fragmented and still unable to address its many problems.
By Robert Mwesigwa
KAMPALA – More than 130 years ago, the political heads of Europe’s nations met for a conference in Berlin to divide Africa amongst themselves.
It ended with the fragmentation of Africa into micro political units incapable of supporting the independent growth of the same fragmented African states.
More than a century later, many African states have crafted their identities around the geographical demarcations decided at the Berlin Conference in 1884.
These demarcations make up today’s international boundaries on the continent, they have influenced or more accurately they have restricted geopolitical and economic relations in Africa.
African states have continued to divide themselves along these boundaries while the same European states that created those demarcations have progressively erased their international boundaries back home in Europe creating the European Union.
Africa remains weak, fragmented and still unable to address its many problems effectively and yet today, even the most ardent critics of Africa cannot deny the historical imperative for a strong, unified continent.
Fast forward to 2018, increasingly political players and development practitioner on Africa are making the case that Africa states should integrate economically and politically, but it seems easier said than done.
How does integration happen?
It is not true that African states will integrate merely out of sentimental value or national policy because it is not policies that integrate people, instead it is people that have to own it.
Integration is a result of the collective self interests of the all groups involved; in today’s world, nothing integrates societies like their own economic self interests.
History has also shown it was German’s business interests that fueled the unification of East and West German.
The business class in the West wanted to access the Eastern market to sell their goods, so they pushed for the unification out of their own self.
For many smaller economies in Africa, especially landlocked ones, regional integration is not a policy option, it is a necessity.
Being part of a trade bloc with neighbouring countries can help small countries to get access to ports.
It can help them achieve economies of scale, facilitate investment, break into multi-country production networks, and increase private sector competitiveness.
In 1977, the East African Community collapsed. This collapse triggered a disharmony between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
For all Amin’s ills and misconceptions of integration, this community was always going to struggle.
Partly because it did not represent the collective self interest of the region’s states, but also, its biggest challenge was a failure by some of the region’s political actors to properly conceptualise this idea of integration at regional level.
It was not until 1993 that the idea of integration was reintroduced into the mainstream political arena in East Africa. Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya and Ali Hassan Mwinyi were at the forefront of this and since then the region has been making integration attempts both at a policy level and the non state attempts to sell goods and labour across the region’s national boundaries.
The future of integration
The recent signing by 44 of Africa’s 52 countries of a treaty to establish a Continental free trade area (CfTA) in Kigali is further evidence that indeed Africa is on the right move.
Also, studies now suggest that “demand for democracy increases with economic integration due to the presence of a learning and cultural transmission channel, so less democratic countries learn from the institutions of their (more) democratic partners.” Further proving that countries that integrate and trade are more likely to be democratic.
Africa’s leaders will need to transcend domestic cultural, tribal and political biases, sentiments and affiliations, if the full benefits of regional and continental integration are to be realised.
Africa is at a time of greatest opportunities on all fronts. To suggest that the time is not yet ripe for a political union of Africa or even East Africa is to the ignore realities in Africa today. This is Africa’s destiny band for its leaders to reflect on.
The writer is a Ugandan businessman and chairman of the Africa Strategic Leadership Centre, a Kampala-based Think-Tank.