ARegional integration has for nearly six decades of African independence been an enduring appeal for the continent as the right strategy for overcoming the economic disadvantages of the small size of the African countries and low per capita incomes and sparse populations and of making possible a higher rate of economic growth and development. It is considered as a key driver and the way forward for the structural transformation of African economies. The consolidation of the African economic space, in particular, through the formation of sub-regional common markets leading eventually to a continental common market and economic community has been perceived as a primary goal. The reality is that “regional integration is not a choice for Africa – it is a must”. This has triggered the creation of regional economic communities such as ECOWAS and continental bodies like the African Union as instruments of economic and political decolonization.
However, despite great expectations, half a century of Africa’s regional integration process, unlike that of Europe, Latin America and South East Asia, has not made any appreciable inroads towards the objective of creating a viable regional economic market, let alone an economic community. Why has this been the case? Why is there this striking contradiction between general emphasis on the need for economic integration in Africa and the scanty evidence of practical success?
Although Africa’s region-building and regional integration suffer from a litany of seemingly intractable problems, one of the little known or often neglected critical issue is capacity to drive the integration process in Africa. Capacity is indeed an enabler of development. The incontestable fact is that both at the national and the regional levels, the integration schemes and their various African development strategies and plans do not have the capacity to carry out the enormous responsibilities assigned them. Their carrying capacity is woefully limited. Both at the levels of top management and professional cadres, these schemes do not have the critical mass of staff or the minimum human capacity required to effectively run their programmes or implement their growing mandates.
This has been compounded by the comparatively limited training courses organized for responsible personnel on capacity building issues. There appears to be no systematic efforts made by the various academic and research institutions in Africa to provide capacity building or training of staff in African ministries, departments and agencies in the technology of regional integration to technically support at policy and programme levels, the integration initiatives of governments. The recently created (2010) little known West African Institute (WAI) based in Cape Verde and the Institute for Regional Integration and Development (RID) established in Kenya in 2011 and the COMESA Virtual University limit their operations to their respective West, East and Southern African sub-regions only. Not only are the orientation and programmes of these institutions regionally focused, they also do not offer training in integrated capacity development.
Whereas in Europe the European Union (EU), which is an enduring model of integration, is bolstered by regional integration research and training institutions based in Germany, Belgium, Austria and Greece; and, in Latin America, two similar institutes have been established in Argentina and Uruguay to monitor, evaluate and focus special attention on training of public and private sector executives and civil society organizations on management of regional integration, there are no pan-African focus regional integration institutions in Africa to bolster the regional economic communities like ECOWAS, the African Union, and the projected Continental Free Trade Area. Thus creation of a regional integration institution with a continental focusto offer an integrated capacity development programme in regional integration and African development and to promote academic excellence has become increasingly necessary.
It is to meet the interlocking challenges of regional integration in Africa that the Centre for Regional Integration in Africa (CRIA) has been created in Ghana, historically, the vanguard and sustained advocate, indeed the Mecca of Pan-Africanism, regionalism and African unity, to address capacity constraints of Africa’s region-building and regional integration. Unlike the existing regional integration institutions in Africa, the Centre is arguably the only pan-African focus regional integration institution in Africa which has developed an innovative integrated continent –wide capacity training programme to respond to national, regional and continental development challenges and aspirations of the AU Agenda 2063. The primary goal is to build national cadres of highly trained and skilled African technocrats to provide intellectual, technical and professional inputs to underpin the efforts of governmental, inter- governmental and non-governmental organisations to realize their integration ambitions.
Like its counterparts in Europe and Latin America, the Centre has mounted a unique and rewarding innovative Certificate, Master and Executive Master of Arts degree programmes to offer training in regional integration to enhance the capacities of key actors of national, regional and continental integration process. The one-year Executive Masters is a weekend programme to enable participants to balance their education with the obligations of an intense work schedule.
Since its establishment, the Centre has organized capacity–building workshops for the ECOWAS Commission in July 2009 and the Principal Officers of the Nigeria Ministry of Foreign Affairs in September 2010 and December 2011 respectively; established, in partnership with African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), a Regional Integration Issues Policy Forum, a mechanism to facilitate much needed interface between policymakers and national stakeholders of regional integration schemes to promote awareness creation and knowledge building on national development to enhance capacity. The first forum, under the theme: “Bringing West African Integration Home for National Development”, was held in May 2017to commemorate the 42nd Anniversary of ECOWAS, with an impressive keynote address by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo–Addo; a second Regional Integration Issues Forum was organized jointly with the Ghana Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration in December 2018 on the theme: “Diplomatic Service as a Tool for Promotion of Regional Integration in Africa for National Development”.
The Centre has shared with the Ghana Council of State at its request on 22nd March, 2018, a presentation on “Ghana and the ECOWAS Agenda: A Review of Ghana’s Implementation of ECOWAS Agenda”. CRIA has been publishing annual monographs titled: “Issues in African Regional Integration”,as source material for regional integration programmes at the Legon Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy, University of Ghana, Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, and the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College.The Centre was selected in 2018 by the ACBF as a focal organization to assist its projects to update “The Survey of Capacity Needs of Africa’s Regional Economic Communities”.The training programmes of the Centre have become extremely crucial, particularly as the continent is launching this month (July) an all-important African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the secretariat of which Ghana is bidding to host. There is now an ever growing demand in Africa for training of technocrats in capacity building for regional and continental integration.
Now is the moment for Africa to have trained technocrats for effective implementation of regional and continental integration programmes. A rapidly changing global economic environment demands that we move swiftly and strategically to achieve regional and continental integration. Our long-standing commitments to cooperation across borders propel us. And the needs and aspirations of the people of Africacompel us. It is time for action.
By Prof. S. K. B. Asante