New AU-RECs relationship needed for integration

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    Africa must face the stark reality that integration is the fastest and surest pathway to building strong national economies. To ensure success in re-orienting and re-directing the continent towards this fundamental paradigm shift, a rethinking and re-tweaking of the institutional relationship between AU member states, the AU and RECs must first take place.

    Pathways to African integration

    Too many analysts are quick to conclude that African integration has been and is still low given the lofty aspirations of the African Union (AU) and the respective Regional Economic Communities (RECs). It is pertinent for any assessment or evaluation on integration to bear in mind that integration all over the world is a long journey, a marathon not a sprint. The current Brexit saga that will see Britain pulling out of the European Union (EU), speaks volumes of the slippery steep slope of integration. Even if Britain pulls out of the EU that will not mean that EU integration has failed because the dynamics of integration would always feature negotiations and re-negotiations, alignment and realignments of terms of engagement. It is an undisputable fact, which has been a core finding of most recent studies on the state of integration in Africa, that the role and responsibilities of member states is fundamental to the effectiveness of AU Commission (AUC) and the RECs. The member states are critical in addressing the ever present tension between supranationality and national sovereignty and the courage to move towards collective sovereignty. It has become imperative for Africa to answer the question 'what is the value of protecting national sovereignty with poor economies, conflict ridden societies and weak global influence?' Africa must face the stark reality that African integration is the fastest and surest pathway to building strong national economies. Consequently, there is an urgent need for a change of mindset of African leaders and people to begin to see continental integration as indeed an economic and development pathway; and model for national economic growth, inclusive and sustainable development of each and all African countries regardless of their current economic development, population and level of natural resource endowment. In this regard, the AUC and RECs are best placed to popularise the new thinking of promoting integration as the most pragmatic pathway to economic growth and development of Africa. To ensure success in re-orienting and re-directing the continent towards this fundamental paradigm shift in words and actions, a rethinking and re-tweaking of the institutional relationship between AU and the RECs must first take place. It is only a more organic relationship between the AU and RECs that will produce the kind of cooperation that will drive transformative and collective integration. This may require revisiting the Lagos Plan of Action and the Abuja Treaty as pathways and stages to delivering Agenda 2063; and accelerating and sustaining integration. One of the sources of tension undermining more effective cooperation between the AU and RECs, which needs to be resolved as a precondition to accelerating continental integration, is the need for absolute clarity of roles and responsibilities between AU member states, the AU and the RECs. This will at least minimise tension, competition and sometimes division and sectional conspiracy. The clarity of the different roles, responsibilities, obligations (financial and no financial) and corresponding institutional architecture to drive the often contested and tensed tri-lateral relationship must be sorted out and captured in no less a legal text than the Constitutive Act of the AU and similar treaties of the RECs. Fortunately, the approval by the AU Heads of States and Government to review the AU Constitutive Act provides a golden opportunity. A more effective AU-RECs cooperation will easily and quickly be able to deliver some highly impactful and transformative low hanging fruits that will accelerate African integration such as: more liberal visa regime to promote free movement of people, goods and services of all Africans in all African countries; the African passport; mobility of labour to manage the huge unemployment of the burgeoning youth bulge of most African countries; systematic and structured engagement with the youths and boosting intra-African trade. Others include: the establishment of an annual African Forum by the AU to effectively engage with African private sector and other actors; and the establishment of an AU-RECs continental mechanism and building capacities for multi-lateral negotiations. In addition, the immediate implementation of some other key Agenda 2063 flagship projects, such as Integrated High Speed Train Network to connect all African capitals and commercial centres; formulation of an African Commodities Strategy and development of the Grand Inga Dam project should be prioritised and fast tracked.

    African resourcing

    The current buzz and euphoria about Africa rising, the optimism around Agenda 2063 and the hope of the AU and the RECs accelerating African integration will come to naught if Africa does not resource (financial, material and technical) its integration organisations and agendas. The excuse (not a reason) that Africa does not have the kind of resources to self fund its own integration and development agenda is no longer tenable or fashionable against the growing evidence of the huge amount of financial and non financial resources lost by the continent through illicit flows of financial resources, skewed commodity pricing, unfair trade regimes, fraudulent mining contracts and more. Africa needs to address and block the many sources of leakages and waste to change the long-standing narrative of the African paradox of ‘rich Africa, poor Africans’. Specifically on the funding of AU and the RECs, the hope raised by the new AU Assessed contribution and the assignment of Dr Donald Kaberuka as AU High Representative for the Peace Fund, to come up with viable and sustainable financing options should be marched with faithful implementation and thorough follow up. It is hoped that Dr Kaberauka’s recommendations will not be treated like that of the Olusegun Obasanajo Committee on Alternative Sources of Funding, adopted in principle and not acted on. Some specific proposals that the AU and RECs could explore include:
    • AU-RECs Joint Resource Mobilisation: Regional Approach to Resource Mobilisation for RECs and AU;
    • Chair of the Union Project/Contribution Fund;
    • AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) Membership Pool Fund;
    • African Business for Africa Development Network/Partnership;
    • African Diaspora Investment Fund: leveraging African remittances for investment and development- win/win situation;
    • African Professionals Expertise Volunteer Assistance Programme.

    Assessment of RECs Liaison Offices to the AU

    The establishment and deployment of RECs Liaison Officers to the African Union may have been done almost quietly under the Capacity Building Progamme of the African Peace Facility funded by the EU in 2007 but today this cooperation mechanism may be adjudged the most critical factor in the AU-RECs relationship. The mandate of the RECs Liaison Office to the AU was expectedly expanded beyond peace and security by the AUC and RECs Chief Executives in January 2009, in line with the provision of the Protocol on the Relations of AU and RECs (2008). Nine years after, the impact of the RECs Liaison Officers to the AU in promoting synergy between RECs and AUC policies and programmes is undeniable as a comparative study on the state of cooperation between AU and RECs pre-deployment of RECS Liaison Office to the AU and now will show that these six Liaison Offices of ECOWAS, SADC, COMESA, EAC, ECCAS and IGAD have profoundly increased the level of cooperation in all areas of integration. Indeed, the greatest unintended result is that these Offices not only represent their RECs at the AU but to all diplomatic missions and inter-governmental organisations based in Addis Ababa. This has greatly increased the scope of responsibilities and level of representation of these offices and officers as critical elements in African and international multilateral diplomacy beyond the initial mandate and projection. However, the RECs' Liaison Offices to the AU experience two main challenges: one, that the exchange of Liaison Officers between the AU and the RECs is secretariat to secretariat and so focuses mainly on technical and operational collaboration, whereas the greater need is for the AU and the RECs to harmonise their policy and decision-making processes to promote collective decision making and responses in all areas of integration. The second major challenge is the fact that these offices are still funded almost entirely by the EU under successive African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) Support Programme of the African Peace Facility except for ECOWAS that partly funds a greater share of its office’s operations and activities. It is imperative that RECs begin to walk the path of self funding of their offices since these offices should outlive EU funding and should be indeed permanent representative offices.

    Proposals for rethinking AU member states, AU and RECs trilateral relationship

    1. AU primary responsibility in unifying and articulating African voice: The ways and means of achieving this onerous task could include the AUC encouraging member states to institute joint or integrated UN/AU/RECs desk offices in foreign affairs ministries to ensure coordinated national interface with the UN, AU and the RECs. In addition, the establishment of a formal virtual platform or forum of African Ambassadors/Permanent Representatives to RECs, AU and UN to interface with AU Commission towards ensuring Africa speaks with one voice and acts together at the UN, AU, RECs and other international and global platforms is proposed.
    2. Single AU/REC legal text: An immediate step should be the adoption of a single AU legal text (perhaps based on the Abuja Treaty), which will clearly state the division of roles and responsibilities between the AU member states, the AU and RECs and will cover all aspects of regional and continental integration. The new framework should recognise RECs as part of AU decision-making structures.
    3. Regional (RECs) experts/ministers specialised technical committees (STCs) and summits feeding into AU Summit: this implies the harmonisation of RECs and AU statutory meetings at expert, ministerial and heads of state summit. The proposal is to have RECs/regional meetings and summits discuss, deliberate and make recommendations, which will feed into continental decision-making processes with the RECs giving progress reports at AU executive councils and summits. This will promote joint ownership of regional and continental integration agenda by the AU and RECs.
    4. AU/RECs Commissioners/Department Forum/Interface: To complement the twice a year AU/RECs/UNECA/AfDB Chief Executives Coordination meeting the proposed Commissioners’ Forum will be convened on a departmental basis, which will mean AUC/RECs commissioners of different sectors will meet separately to discuss and plan jointly for the next year. This will help to create space and opportunities for synchronisation of efforts in all sectors of integration.
    5. Adoption of the Coalition of the Willing and Ready approach: consensus should not mean all in total agreement at all times. Since ‘seeing is believing’, the approach of ‘Coalition of the Willing and Ready’ will be more effective to get member states genuinely interested and committed to accelerated continental integration to subscribe to different initiatives based on their own priorities, thus building a critical mass.
    6. AUC/RECs ‘Board of Directors’ model governance structure: perhaps the most radical proposal and potentially most pragmatic and effective way to fast track African integration and development would be the establishment of a common AUC/REC governance management structure. The proposed structure would operate like the Board of Directors model where the AUC Chairperson and the Chief Executives of RECs will oversee the management and execution of jointly agreed and planned programmes of RECs and AU summit decisions. This ‘Board of Directors’ of RECs AUC Chief Executives will report directly to the RECs and AU Ministerial Councils and be accountable to the RECs and AU summits.

    Addressing the paradox

    From the above it is clear that Africa (governments, AU and the RECs) needs to take some firm decisions and be ready and bold enough to walk the talk. Such decisions include reducing dependency on external partners and thus AU and RECs should start developing a gradual and phased exit strategy from foreign aid (especially as corruption feeds foreign aid); concerted efforts to reverse the illicit financial flows from the continent, re-negotiating fraudulent mining contracts, increasing domestic mobilisation of resources to fund integration and national development, the movement towards pooled sovereignty for the sake of integration; collective negotiations and bargaining at the global stage, accelerating intra-Africa trade and promotion of good governance (including prudent management of natural resources and minimising corruption) to drastically reduce conflicts on the continent. It is imperative that the AU and the RECs should always keep their eyes on the ball: keeping the African people at the centre and heart of integration in addressing the African paradox of ‘rich Africa, poor Africans’. It will amount to stating the obvious: that all the proposals above will just be wishes on paper if the AU and RECs cannot increase their level of self-funding of regional and continental integration activities to ensure ownership and independence of thought, agenda and action. The AU and RECs powered by their member states need to do things differently, not to do the same things the same way and expect different results. Lastly, there is need to reiterate that integration should be the main economic and development strategy for Africa and so African integration is too critical to be left to the diplomats. About the author Raheemat Momodu is Head ECOWAS Liaison Office to the African Union.
    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 4  (July/August 2016).
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