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Regionalism in the post-2015 development agenda - Joe Corry-Roake

© Ghana Schoolnet

Abstract: In an ever-globalising world, developing nations are robbed of the capacity to deal with global challenges to their own interests. Strong regional bodies are an opportunity to resist this by adopting common positions and protecting the interests of member states.

This article is a part of the Pambazuka Special Issue "From MDGs to SDGs: Claims vs. reality", published on May 29th 2015 as a result of the cooperation between AfricAvenir and Pambazuka.

2015-05-29, Issue 728

Many observers believe that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been a resounding success in Africa: secondary-school enrolment grew by 48% between 2000 and 2008, malaria deaths in some of the worst-affected countries have declined by 30% and HIV infections by up to 74% (August, 2013). Others argue that at best, the MDGs were marginal in the development and improvements of the African continent, fostering a minimal increase in “rates of progress in a few goal areas by putting topics on the development agenda.” (Kenny, 2013)

The MDGs largely addressed symptoms rather than the causes of mal-development- be it high rates of HIV or child mortality. The money that has been pumped into Africa, largely as a result of the attention of these MDGs, is phenomenal but, as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation acknowledge, money is only part of the answer, “it takes years and years to shift the system” (August 2013). The addressing of structural weaknesses requires support to move away from addressing symptoms towards the building of non-governmental networks which can affect long term sustainable structural improvements to Africa and improve the lives of ordinary Africans. This is a key focus for any discussions about the post-2015 development agenda.

New ideas about development should continue to look at regions and sub-regions and support them. In the post-2015 development goals, more needs to be done to address structural inadequacies and part of this could be achieved by utilising informal regionalisation to marry the influx of resources with African-led systematic changes to help Africa achieve sustainable development. This is founded on a belief that while regional integration can be accelerated by boosting intra-African trade (NEPAD, 2014), increased regional integration can contribute to a growth in regional trade. Additionally, increased regionalisation and economic ties will also encourage peace and security as interdependence (generally) prevents conflict as it becomes against the self-interest of the individual nations. Furthermore, internal conflicts will be able to be solved through regional influence (as again if one falls then all fall). Ultimately the region is thus designed to be “borderless, peaceful [and] prosperous.” (ECOWAS, 2010).

There are different ways to do development. The developed countries across the globe have followed various different paths and ended up at unique versions of development. The only real similarity that all of the developed (and many developing countries) have in common is that their economies and domestic markets were protected, to different extents, by high tariffs or other policies to allow their domestic markets to grow in their own time. While in an ever globalising sphere of operation, most non-developed countries today (including developing and un-developed) do not have the scope or opportunity to cut themselves off from the international marketplace without severe repercussions to their economies and standards of living, if they unite then there is a certainly scope for a greater degree of protectionism at a regional level.

As befits a continent “with a land mass equivalent to that of China, India, Japan, America, Mexico and Europe combined” there is dramatic diversity between African nation states (The Economist, 2012). This, combined with the lack of infrastructure means that it thus makes sense to focus (at least in the short-medium term) on the smaller sub-regions. 

WESTPHALIAN NATION STATE TOWARDS FORMAL SUB-REGIONAL PACTS AND AGREEMENTS? 

The ever globalised nature of all facets of daily life has led to a point where many nation states “lack the capacity to handle global challenges to national interests.”(Kirby, 2003, 93). Regional bodies such as the African Union (AU) are thus considered a way of compiling a common position in continents with diverse problems, strengths and needs. Within a regional body, a nation state will be able to collaborate with other states, presenting a united front against global challenges. In doing so the state will protect its own interests. 

While in practice there is an increased focus on these regional bodies, most conversations around regionalism in Africa continue to portray it as “primitive and characterized mainly by failed or weak regional organizations and a superficial degree of regional economic integration.” (Söderbaum, 2003). This lack of strength regarding existing regional structures suggests that that future plans of a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) by 2017 are unlikely to have the desired impact with existing sub-regional FTA producing little in the way of sustainable development to ordinary people. 

The CFTA is one of many attempts to improve and encourage intra-African trade. This trade facilitation will occur, for example, by reducing the bureaucracy between trading countries which can reduce inland travel time by 19 days on average.” (UNECA,2013) Intra-African trade ensures that the benefits for both exporter and importer remain in Africa. The CFTA aims to raise intra-African trade as a percentage of total trade from 12 percent to somewhere closer to averages elsewhere - “60 percent for Europe, 40 percent for North America, and 30 percent for ASEAN” (ICTSD, 2012). When looking at African sub-regions, as of 2012, the share of intra-regional, goods trade in total goods imports is only around 10 percent in COMESA, 10 percent in ECOWAS and 8 percent in UEMOA (Lam, 2012). These statistics are shocking and show that it is necessary for action to be taken to enhance and encourage increased regional integration regarding trade.

There are fears that increased regionalism will just have a similar core-periphery effect as the global economy where the more established economies will succeed, thus far to take the European Union (EU) as an example, “richer European coun-tries have helped their less developed neighbours become eco-nomically successful by fostering institutional reforms, bestowing financial aid and economic expertise, reducing income differentials between the EU member states.” (Mann, 2012). Despite many denouncing and ridiculing the EU in the wake of the Euro crisis, in fact it can be argued that “The European Union is a success story when it comes to economic growth and standards of living.”(ibid) However, in many regions, the focus is on economic growth overall with disregard or even at the expense of its distribution geographically and a region-wide improvement in standards of living. Part of this is perhaps as a result of a lack of perceived regional identity. For individuals in one state to care about the distribution being skewed in their favour and thus be willing to promote policies that support others, there is a need for a regional identity to be formed. A possible way for this to occur is with a promotion of the notion of a shared history. 

The CFTA is the latest in a series of Free Trade Agreements within sub-regions, many of whom have existing monetary unions such as the West African CFA. These formalised attempts at promoting regional growth are generally considered to have delivered little to the lives of ordinary people. One possible reason for this is that most of the focus on promoting regionalism in Africa has thus far been on the economy and the aggregate economic benefits with moves to “implement the continental free trade area and… promote regional infrastructural development in order to enhance intra-African trade” (UNECA, 2014) . These miss out the need to make sure that economic growth is spread fairly and enjoyed by all citizens in the area. One only needs to look at the documentation and the attempts by regional bodies such as the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) to see the importance placed on formal ways of thinking about and constructing regional unity around economic improvements. 

A potential problem with the formation of these trade blocs is that of the resulting trade diversion. The formation of FTA or regional blocs may result in a situation where trade is diverted away from a more efficient exporter towards a less efficient one. In part, however, this is precisely the point, the diversion towards importing from within the sub-regional body will allow that country to grow. Furthermore, the formation of trade blocs does not negate trade with other countries, if anything, it strengthens the individuals countries hand to ensure they are not exploited. 

In Asia, ASEAN has allowed smaller countries to compete with the bigger players in the continent such as China. This can be seen with the groups such as ASEAN +3 and the East Asia Summit which are developed to include countries like China, Japan and even the USA. This examples “show that the small countries of SEA pulling together does give them a bigger say… as the economic superpowers want a slice of the action and want to set up trade deals.” (Billy Harrington-Roberts, personal communication, 2015) Although, the distribution of such economic improvements are still extremely skewed with the focus of the regional bodies intent on economic growth, it serves as an example of the power regional trade blocs can have.

Despite attempts of formal regionalisation to facilitate trade, in much of Africa it has added another layer of bureaucracy to the process, and so we also need to look to ‘informal’ regionalisation and how it can be utilised regarding trade. Informal regionalisation is regionalisation from below, as non-state actors interact across state borders to strengthen regional relationships.

Despite formal regionalisation, in theory, resulting in greater intra-regional trade and thus economic growth, “the governments of [African] countries have for long mainly engaged in rhetorical declarations … with few effective achievements” (Ossenbrugge and Haferburg, 2003) Despite the claims of the heads of these large regional bodies and the states which comprise them, they are largely symbolic, comprised and utilised primarily as “‘old boys’ club’ for mutual support” (ibid). This perhaps explains why, despite 28 Regional Trade Agreements in Africa, there has been only a limited increase in intra-African trade with heads of state imposing a range of “non-tariff and regulatory barriers [which maintain high]… transaction costs and limit the movement of goods, services people and capital across borders.” (Lam, 2012). These policies may be a possible reason that, despite “More than 70 percent of Africans liv[ing] in the country side and derive[ing] their livelihood directly from agriculture”, Africa is still a net importer of food (World Bank, 2012). Formal regionalisation has yet to succeed in delivering the rewards and improvements it promised.

These failures of formal institutions to bring long lasting sustainable improvements in the standards of living of the general population should draw the focus of discussions of future development towards the growth of a new regionalism- that which is created, sustained and reinforced by informal actors and structures.

GROWTH OF NEW REGIONALISM

The new regionalism is of course not new at all. But in academic literature a recent focus on it has led to this title. The concept of new regionalism is largely dominated by non-state-actors. It refers to the “informal process of regionalisation ranging from illicit trade networks in blood diamonds and other commodities to grey markets” (Söderbaum, 2003), and beyond to familial, tribal links and non-governmental civil society groups. Here, non-state actors combine and act across borders to create links between nation states. 

43% of Africans are engaged in informal cross order trade (ICBT) “with women making up about 75 percent of the sector” (Njiwa,2013). The informal trade needs to not be ignored but instead collaborated with. This is especially true of women who, as the statistics show, make up the large majority of this sector but to whom economic support is limited. Collaboration and support of these individuals, small businesses and their consumers will provide some security but will also allow the collection of taxes with the governments can, ideally, use for the common good. Also, while those involved in the furthering of formal regionalisation focus on trade facilitation to stimulate trade (the rationale behind monetary unions and FTA), existing trade can contribute to the smoothing of the wheels of trade. It is thus necessary to look at existing avenues of trade.

However, far from solely advocating the increased attention to the role the private sector can play in increased regionalisation and economic growth, non-state actors also have the chance for civil society groups to address problems at a different level. There is the potential for the economic growth aided by the private sector to result in more equitable development because, in the same way as increased regionalisation at a nation state level gives greater strength in tackling global problems, so too does increased interconnectedness of civil society groups. The conception of the shared regional history that was discussed previously is one area which can be enhanced by actors engaged in informal regionalisation by reconstructing and realigning the different nations’ accounts of history. By uniting behind one shared history, and thus creating a new identity, there is the potential for the region to join together and push for progressive regional policies and actions which will benefit the entire region.

There are of course dangers in this concept of regional identity, and civil society is not most certainly not of intrinsic value. Indeed, it is often argued that even at a regional level, “civil society may play the ‘political’ role of reinforcing and legitimizing controversial, and sometimes repressive, dimensions of regional governance, such as large-scale regional infrastructural projects and state facilitation for the regional operation of big enterprises.” It is thus vital for moving forward that those civil society groups and networks which seek long term sustainable development for ALL are given the resources and support to facilitate such change. This particularly requires a focus on society and the position of women and young people within it- with the demography of the African continent leading to a growing labour force but increasing problems in breaking into the formal labour market. The formal economy has such barriers that, in 2012, the African Development Bank released a study showing that, before the age of 30, only 25% of young men and a mere 10% of young women were able to gain employment within it. As discussed above, the key stakeholders will differ between regions but it is likely that the importance of these two key, but greatly marginalised, groups must form part of any proposed solution.

The Millennium Development Goals have achieved much but they focused on addressing the symptoms of the lack of development in Africa. Increasingly, conversations today involve the structural changes which attack the causes of poverty and which are needed for development in the post-2015 world to be sustainable. Formal regionalisation attempts to address these causes of poverty have not brought about sustainable development to the people. Any new goals devised as part of the post-2015 development agenda should look at structural issues with a particular focus not only on the economic dimensions of informal regionalisation but also on societal and historical factors. This focus is necessary not only at a practical and theoretical level where scholars who have dismissed the study of African regionalism in the past, should instead view it as a world of potentials and possibilities for African solutions to African problems.

REFERENCES

August, O. (2013). A hopeful continent, The Economist. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/csvqehr

Economist, T. (2012) Bulging in the middle. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/8uu4yue

ECOWAS, (2010) Regional Strategic Plan. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/l74ohdg

ICTSD. (2012) A continental free trade area by 2017? Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/n3djjru

Kenny, C. (2013) Absolute(ly Not) Zero, Center for Global Development, Retrieved from http://www.cgdev.org/blog/absolutely-not-zero

Kirby, P. (2003) Introduction to Latin America: Twenty-First Century Challenges. (London: Sage Publications) 

Lam, S. (2012) Regional Integration in Africa: Looking East for inspiration. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/lm672cx

Mann, K. (2012) The EU is (still) an economic success story and should not abandon its growth model. Retreieved from http://tinyurl.com/l8rtb8u

NEPAD,(2014) Common African Position (CAP) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/mpqxfyd

Njiwa,D. (2013) Tackling informal cross-border trade in Southern Africa. retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/kcjbpkr

Ossenbrugge, J. and Haferburg. C. (2003) Ambiguous Restructurings of Post-Apartheid Cape Town: The Spatial Form of Socio-Political Change (Berlin: LIT Verlag)

Radelet, S. Clemens,M. and Bhavnani, R. (2005) Aid and Growth, Finance and Development, Volume 42, Number 3. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/lndx2vc

Söderbaum, F. (2003) The New Regionalism in Africa. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/6105408/The_New_Regionalism_in_Africa

UNECA, (2013) Outcome Document of the Regional Consultations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Retrieved from http://www.regionalcommissions.org/africa2015.pdf

UNECA. (2014) Trade facilitation from an African Perspective. Retrieved from http://www.uneca.org/sites/default/files/publications/trade_facilitation_eng.pdf

World Bank (2012) Africa: Unlocking Regional Trade to Help Feed a Continent. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/m6jyn9m

* Joe Corry-Roake is studying for an MSc in Global Studies at Gothenburg University, and has just completed an internship with Fahamu Dakar. He is the blog editor for the charity Development in Action in the UK, promoting youth involvement in global citizenship and development.

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