Analysis & Opinions - Business Daily

Build Africa's Economic Foundations First

| July 6, 2007

African presidents have now returned home from Accra, Ghana, after discussing a critical issue for the future of Africa: the creation of a United States of Africa at the urging of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

But instead the leaders only managed to agree on setting up a ministerial committee to examine the issue and report back to the next summit of the African Union in January. Africa faces a serious governance crisis.

Most of the colonial states created around raw materials and settler concessions are constitutionally and economically bankrupt. They need to be replaced by new states that reflect the realities of the modern world.

The European Union, which is often used as role model for the United States of Africa, evolved through a series of agreements.

Africa will not be united through political decree and diplomatic subterfuge. It will grow like a forest, starting from a mosaic of economic activities around farmlands, cities and other centres of economic activity. Political structures can only be effective if they serve as canopies over thriving economic systems.

Africa will come together through the incremental integration of contiguous states. Peace among neighbours is a critical aspect of economic integration. It will need to strengthen regional trade, which in turn will require greater investment in productive capacities.

This will involve building competence in technological innovation, nurturing business enterprises, technical capabilities among the African peoples and creating effective institutions.

Expanding regional trade is possibly the most important prerequisite for political integration. Africa should be built on the diversity of its regional bodies and not seek to eliminate them.

These are the building blocks of resilient economies, not obstacles to unification. Those working on security, for example, can learn from the experiences of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has considerable expertise on dealing with crises in countries such as Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Nigeria has played a key role in providing regional leadership on this.

On the economic front, much could be learned from the efforts of the 19-member Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), which Libya has joined though it is not an eastern or southern African country.

The East African Community (EAC), which has a road map that includes political integration, is another example. The EAC  includes all the critical instruments needed for a federation. These include judicial, legislative and executive organs.

But these nascent institutions need to be strengthened so they can function effectively and help to contribute to the integration of the region. Africa should invest in building regional physical, human and institutional capacities.

More specifically, productive regions will need to be connected by infrastructure facilities to promote the production and movement of goods, services and ideas across existing boundaries. Without such investments unification plans will remain hollow.

They will need to do more than that: they must focus on improving the technical quality of their people by investing in the engineering sciences and pay particular attention to the enrolment of girls in such programmes.

The work of uniting Africa will need to be done state by state and will start with good neighbourly relations. Col Gaddafi has the right vision, but can correct his faulty strategy by helping to support the effective functioning of regional integration bodies, starting with northern and western Africa.

Time has come to redirect Africa’s efforts towards strengthening regional economic integration. Current efforts to create a United States of Africa by decree are distracting the continent from this urgent task. It is as futile as trying to build a roof using bricks taken from the foundation.

Prof. Juma teaches at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government where he directs the Science, Technology and Globalisation Project.

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For Academic Citation: Juma, Calestous.“Build Africa's Economic Foundations First.” Business Daily, July 6, 2007.