Regional Integration continues to be a long standing goal for Africa, with not much progress having been achieved.
With regional economic integration appearing to be a crucial aspect of Africa’s competitiveness in the global economy, regional experts convened in Gaborone on Thursday last week to brainstorm how this long standing goal may be achieved to improve on competitiveness.
Speaking at the Regional Workshop on Competitiveness in SADC countries, Ciara Browne, an Associate Director at the World Economic Forum, said regional integration for Africa is a must if the region is to be competitive in this globalised world.
Browne said Africa’s competitiveness as a whole trails other emerging regions especially in quality of institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic policies, education and technological adoption while big gaps persist between its highest and lowest ranked economies.
“To close the gap between highest and lowest ranked economies, there is need for African economies to integrate,” said Browne.
The 2013 African Competitiveness report themed ‘Connecting Africa’s Markets in a Sustainable Way’, observed that Regional integration is a key vehicle for helping Africa to raise competitiveness and diversify its economic base.
However, effective integration particularly in sub-Saharan Africa has been constrained by inadequate regional infrastructures and a contradictory collection of legal, institutional and regulatory frameworks.
Participants at the workshop said the relevance of regional integration is neither new nor surprising but implementation of the regional integration programmes is what matters now.
Paul Kalenga, a senior Trade Policy advisor at the SADC secretariat, said the major challenge faced by SADC region is implementing the integration programmes.
Kalenga insisted that implementation cannot be done at a regional level instead it should start at nation level. “Regional integration cannot be done in one size fits all, it should start at neighbour country level then it can be advanced to a regional process,” he said.
Regional economic integration is essential for Africa to realize its full growth potential, to participate in the global economy and to share the benefits of an increasingly connected global marketplace.
Kuseni Dlamini, the chairman at the Times Media Group in South Africa, said small steps push regional integration agenda which has been long standing for too long.
“We need to develop a regional development plan as a road map on where we want to go. We have not progressed as a region to promote economic integration because we are not sure of where we want to go as a region,” he said.
Dlamini added that regional trade and integration remain low due to the cumbersome border administration in place regarding import and export procedures.
Regional economic integration goes beyond an intergovernmental process, to foster broader participation by the private sector and non-state actors, ensuring that regional economic integration is mainstreamed into national development policies and strategies.
Maria Machailo, the Chief Executive Officer of BOCCIM, bemoaned the exclusion of the Private sector on some policy issues or initiatives.
“Implementation of some of the regional integration programmes can be effective if there is effective coordination that also includes the private sector,” she said.