Mohau Pheko* takes a critical look at the processes of regional integration in Africa, and argues for a process of integration driven from below.
The establishment of an African Union in July
2002 in South Africa came just a little after a century since the first ever Pan-African Conference held in London. The culmination of these meetings formed the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Interestingly, the purposes and objectives of the OAU, as stated in Article 11 of the charter, include the following:
To promote the unity and solidarity of the African states
To coordinate and intensify their cooperation and efforts to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa
To defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity and independence
To eradicate all forms of colonialsm from Africa and to promote international cooperation, having due regard for the Charter of the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human rights.
The African Union has its detractors and champions. The key debates within social movements and civil society organisation have been over who should control the development agenda of African states. This growing debate questions what the role of social movements and civil society should be in the integration of Africa.
Regional Integration in Africa
Since the 1960s regional integration has been a prominent political topic for African countries. Today, the impetus behind regional integration is pushed by economic and trade imperatives rather than social, cultural and political factors. Many African leaders view regional integration as a solution to the economic malaise that Africa as a region is experiencing.
Regional cooperation can be defined as an open-ended concept where state and peoples in their specific region deliberately interact together through formal and informal schemes, and network across boundaries for mutual political, economic, social and cultural gain.
At the state level, regional cooperation includes situations in which countries make available to each other resources, technology and expertise, collaborate on joint projects, or act together in economic and other relations globally. At the non- state level, regional cooperation takes on the form of informal, cross-border trade and migration.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC)
There is a broad consensus in Africa that regionalisation is desirable. Africans are drawn together and instinctively distrust the boundaries that separate them. The countries of the SADC region share similar institutional and legal histories. Some countries even use the same languages. There are relatively few social and cultural barriers to migration, intermarriage and socialisation. There is cultural unity, together with a genuine appreciation of the cultural diversity of the region.
There is cross border trade at an informal level that one can refer to as the real economic integration process. It has been recognised for many years that countries’ ‘real’ economies have been mostly informal, and much larger, more dynamic and more regionally integrated that the formal and state- sponsored process of economic integration.
The perspective that currently informs regional integration in Southern African involves bringing together the separate economies of the region, and establishing a large free trade area. The SADC process requires various countries to take responsibility for formulating policies and developing rules and regulations for the functioning of markets at the SADC level. It is assumed that states will gradually cede their sovereign power over economic functions and subject their policies to a regional authority or institutions that exercise their power at the regional level. The free movement of capital and technology across national borders within the region is seen as the end goal.
SADC’s drive towards economic integration is the lowest model of regional cooperation that utilises neoliberal concepts for it’s development. These promote free trade, efficiency models, private sector and big business as the key partners in development. Other elements include creating high levels of investment, economic liberalisation, creating a competitive environment to facilitate trade, and implementing these policies under the guidance of the IMF and World Bank. This is a model of regional integration that forces countries to open up their markets to the world economy despite their economic position and strength. This is done without regard for the consequences of these policies, like job losses, policy induced inflation, poverty, and debt.
This model of new regionalism does not promote the solidarity and integration of people, struggles and issues confronting the SADC region. By it’s nature it is exploitative and perpetuates unequal power relations within the region, and promotes further disintegration of states, leaving them in a fragile position without any internal cohesion.
A survey of regional integration in the SADC region suggests that very modest positive results have been achieved. These have been mostly in the area of political solidarity and relative political unity, such as the Front Line States during the anti- Apartheid struggle. Very little has been achieved in the area of economic, cultural, and social integration in the face of globalisation
Rather than advance an autonomous development path for the SADC region, the path of integration chosen has been one that not only perpetuates dependent development, it also leaves people out of the scenario.
Regional Integration and Social Movements
The problem with the current model of regional cooperation is that it promotes state-state interaction, and does not integrate the struggles and everyday life of people in the region. The political process of creating regional integration requires a high level of reflection of a much deeper social, cultural, political and economic unification of people. The integration effort has so far been in the hands of governments.
The challenges of responding to common problems, such as the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, landlessness, poverty, unemployment, lack of democracy, globalisation, water, education and a host of other issues, form an important basis upon which to build regional solidarity. This demands integrated social movements and civil society in the SADC region. Mandaza, Tostensen and Maphanyane recognise that in order for regional cooperation and integration to be effective, it must be people driven, and should have a popular, region-wide constituency. This would demand democratisation of regionalism with a view to extend participation of popular forces and address issues impacting on the people of the region.
In the integration process it is people, and not governments, who integrate communities, economies, politics, social issues and culture. The challenge for social movements and civil societies is to challenge the new regionalism that is a purely economic process, and is meant to integrate the SADC region into the global economy.
The site of struggle for social movements and civil society should be around creating a regionalism that moves away from neo-liberal sentiments. What agency can social movements bring to a regional integration that brings people together in a community?
My contention is that we need a new form of regional integration and cooperation. We need one that moves beyond the integration of economics. Regional integration should be cultural, political, social, economic and everything else. The concern of Africans in the region is not to just integrate economically; it is about developing a sense of community that is region wide. It creates greater possibilities for indigenous industrialisation, cultural enrichment, and lowers the cost of services such as education, healthcare, telecommunication, and transport. This type of integration holds a cultural and psychological importance, which has perhaps been denied to Africans because of the emphasis on the nation state, and the desire of government to monopolise loyalty by the people.
The popular revolt against the neo-liberal economic politics and globalisation which is destroying the economies of the region needs a response that build a community that involves people at the conceptual and implementation stages of regional integration. This will require pressure from below, and should include trans-border collaborations that challenge the unrealistic notion of boundaries inherited from colonisation. We also need a response that will enable cooperation around struggles against free trade agreements that introduce new forms of poverty in the region. This type of community is different from the artificial sense of community that is currently being promoted in SADC by governments. The benefits of a people- driven integration will be less military confrontation, and an increase in contact between countries at all levels and in all spheres, including intellectually.
Amilcar Cabral in his vision of African integration, argued: “[In] Africa, we are for an African policy that seeks to defend first and foremost the interests of the African peoples, of each
African country, but also for a policy which does not, at any time, forget the interests of the world, of all humanity. We are for a policy of peace in Africa and of fraternal collaboration with all the peoples of the world”.
* Mohau Pheko is a gender and human rights activist, and a member of the editorial collective.