Towards African integration

As the New Year ushers in, so does the natural urge to reflect upon not only our personal achievements but also those issues we have managed to address as a people.
The need for thorough integration is now blatantly obvious throughout the continent. The fact that we do not have the upper hand on various issues pertaining to us or that external help is necessary to fulfil even trivial tasks that can be catered for regionally, undoubtedly provokes a sentiment of concern.
Africa houses many intellectuals and experts qualified to successfully address many of its pressing issues, yet said issues persist.
It may be because resources are not well allocated or because experts are not well disseminated.
Whatever the case may be, it is clear that if African nations were to critically approach the discussion table and willingly as well as openly discuss the issues occurring in neighbouring countries not as foreign issues to be solved but as ‘personal’ African dilemmas, then many of Africa’s ‘pressing’ problems can easily become a thing of the past.
So how best can policy makers tackle these issues?
Many attempts have been made towards attaining these goals. The formation of various institutions such as Southern African Customs Union (SACU), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union are all examples of this.
When discussing the proliferation of discussions in South Africa on the need for regional integration, Robert Davies (1992: 75) stated: “significantly different perspectives have, in fact, emerged between different forces in South African policy on the terms, principles and approaches to govern a programme of closer regional economic co-operation and integration after apartheid”.
Davies clearly alludes to the presence of various perspectives regarding integration, all forwarded as a better attempt at achieving thorough regional integration.
Pertaining to Africa, there are four typologies of regional economic co-operation/integration that can be used as maps to attain regional integration. Although these four approaches to regional economic co-operation/integration are ideal types, they are pivotal prerequisites to policy formulation and ensuing action towards regional integration.
The ideal types are as follows: developmental regional co-operation/integration, market regional co-operation/integration, functional regional co-operation/integration and ad hoc regional co-operation.
Each highlights the extent to which the state should be involved in spearheading regional co-operation/integration.
 Let us look at a brief description of the first three ideal types in order to see which will be best suited in integrating African nations and reducing regional problems without extensively exhausting the resources Africa has.

> Developmental Regional Co-operation/Integration

Developmental regional economic integration promotes greater regional interdependence and maintains that only by initially focusing and guaranteeing equitable regional development can regional economic integration be attained. This in turn entails “a high level of political co-operation at the start of the process and entails two main objectives: a centrally planned strategy for regional production and investment; and a balanced distribution of the benefits of integration among the regional states” (Haarløv, 1997). The state’s omnipresent character and its unique mechanisms are, therefore, essential for this form of integration.
In BalefiTsie’s words (1996: 75), “The pre-occupation with cutting, squeezing and downsizing the state is incompatible with the broad fundamental assumptions of the strategy of development integration. In its broader meaning… developmental integration requires strong state intervention”.
In other words, developmental regional economic integration acknowledges the value, role and level of the state in aiding, monitoring and improving regional integration.
Since this type of integration maintains that only by initially focusing on equitable regional development can regional economic integration actually work, how best can we go about ensuring this in Africa?
The key is through regional interdependence, whereby nations come to synthesise their public systems (transport, food production, finance and economy, health provision etc).
This would help develop stronger, consistent/reliable economies, which would then curb the possibility of aggression or regional conflict, because their interests are linked.
Supporting this argument was James Hentz, 2005, who maintained that: “promoting interdependence, which simply means that national economies are dependent on one another for economic development, is one way to promote regional equality.
The other way is through a central role for the state – almost dirigisme at the regional level. This would entail, for instance, ensuring that industries and investments are fairly distributed among the members of the integration scheme”.
What this could mean for southern Africa is that countries like South Africa cannot be allowed to develop at the expense of its poor neighbours (as was initially the case with SACU).
In retrospect, developmental regional economic integration is mostly a state-led process. The closest we have to it is the SADC.

> Market Regional Co-operation/integration

Another form of co-operation/integration that also promotes regional integration is the market regional co-operation integration. It does this by minimising, alleviating or removing any form of hindrance or barrier to economic activity between and among states within the region. It believes that the best way to attain regional integration is by stimulating the market in such a way that allows it to cater as much as possible to its own needs.
Therefore, in this typology, the markets are free to produce, sell and spread, et cetera. “The integrating force of the market is released through the removal of restrictions and barriers to regional trade, rather than through positive government integration” (Gore, 1992).
The barriers in question here may be policies, tactics or techniques that are considered to either counter or stagger full economic integration.
The road to integration, as by this typology, typically starts “by reducing barriers to intra-regional trade such as tariffs, but later can include dismantling barriers to other factors of production such as the movement of people.
In theory, the process follows in linear succession, from a preferential trade area, to a free trade area, customs union, common market, economic and monetary union and finally, complete economic integration” (Söderbaum, 2002:21).
The market approach believes that regions will find it easier to integrate primarily through the forwarding of economic interests, an endeavour mostly successful if conducted uninterrupted by other factors (political).
The crucial difference between the developmental approach and the market approach is that rather than the state, the market is the engine that drives economic integration.
Despite having a heightened level of institutionalisation, it is nonetheless driven by laissez faire logic of market capitalism, where the state is kept at bay and at times as neutral as possible to market issues primarily fulfilling monitoring, invigilating and supervisory roles. In southern Africa, SACU is a good example of this approach.

> Functional Regional Integration/co-operation

Functionalism believes that any system is composed of particular parts all working together to uphold and advance the whole, and that the whole is present in every part.
The functional way for regional integration has to do with sharing the load or burden among regional members in such a way that each nation is responsible for a specific task and, therefore, plays a role in integrating and catering for the region.
David Mitrany (1965: 135) argued that integration could proceeded by linking “particular activities and interests, one at a time, according to need and acceptability, giving each a joint authority and policy limited to that activity alone. This is the functional way”.
The functional way of integration is characterised by burden sharing and the pooling of resources, as expressed by Swatuk and Vale (1999), “this can be done through a series of shared projects across borders, which creates habits of co-operation and reveals the advantages of pooling efforts”.
This form of integration, therefore, attempts to operate a region as if it were a machine or an organism, whereby each part is assigned a specific task – based on its means – that acts to the progress of the whole. But is this scheme possible for African regions?
Robert Davies (1993) explains how this could work in developing countries: “The neo functional or integration through project co-operation approach is based on the view that conventional trade driven integration is inappropriate in regions characterised by underdevelopment and that co-operation in projects aimed at overcoming infrastructural and production based barriers to regional trade should have priority.
This approach can, therefore, be seen as an amalgamation of remnants of both the market and the developmental approach whereby it believes in the central role that the state plays in driving integration, but at the same time sees intraregional economic interactions as fundamental stimulating regional institutions.
Whereas the developmental and functional approaches promote a central role for the state, the market approach favours and promotes a lesser degree of state involvement.
Furthermore, “the developmental and market approaches are at once more institutionalised and foster greater interdependence, [whereas] the functional approach relies less on formal regional institutions and fosters relatively less regional interdependence” (James Hentz, 2005).

> The Way Forward

When talking of African regional integration, the presence of the state will play a pivotal role in helping and aiding the process of bringing nations together and translating individual national problems in a language that can be understood and acted on by regional nations.
But regional integration cannot be brought to fruition by ignoring the market and the role it can play in advancing this process.
The functional regional integration/co-operation approach makes the most logical sense for Africa, especially considering the diversity and spread of Africa’s national resources and the role African states already play in national decision making makes calling upon them or expecting them to drive regional integration a plausible possibility.
With functional co-operation, the contribution of each nation can span from a variety of resources, ranging from intellectual, abstract, natural to physical.
South Africa, for example, is renowned for transportation, hydroelectric power and shared water resources, whereas other nations could prioritise regional over international trade, and in the process integrate and develop the region and even the continent from ‘within’ as opposed to relying extensively on foreign help.
Not only is integration but rather functional integration the way forward for African nations.

February 2013
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