The idea of countries working together under regional economic groupings to achieve real economic development, stability and unity, and growth, might be at stake as some countries move to protect their solo interests.
This was observed yesterday during a roundtable debate on regional integration at the University of Kigali.
Matters are not helped by cases whereby some countries are moving to protect their own interests, participants said.
A case in point, the United Kingdom is in the process of leaving European Union, U.S. leaders are promoting the “America First” agenda, and a few others think that regional economic groupings are not working.
In Africa, though, more than ever, the momentum to achieve regional integration is slowly taking shape, experts said.
Moses Onyango, a Kenyan expert in international relations, observed that while there is improvement in regional integration across the continent, Africa still has a long way to go to get tangible benefits from the process.
“If you look at the level of integration in African countries in comparison with other regions, for example, the European Union, you find that the African integration process is still facing major challenges,” he said.
According to him, the issue of financing is what is still limiting the progress of integration in Africa.
“Most of the challenges come about because of the member countries’ failure to contribute towards the advancement of the things that they agree on. This is the same problem that East African Community is facing,” he noted.
Onyango indicated that for integration to work there has to be shared values, and that these values require financial support from member countries to be realised.
“If you look at the membership of the East African Community now, they do have shared values. But these values need implementation. A body like EU has a big financial backup from Germany, and France,” he said.
In his view, the ability for countries to contribute financially to the realisation of regional agendas – also known as the hegemonic stability – is lacking in Africa.
Currently, Africa has a number of regional economic communities, including the East African Community (EAC), Southern African Development Community (SADC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Arab Maghreb Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), just to mention a few.
But most of these blocs, experts believe, have not facilitated the true integration of African countries.
For Nicola Bellomo, the EU Ambassador to Rwanda, regional integration is a dynamic process that requires political will and understanding at the grassroots level.
“I think what is really needed is to put forward the political will, but also more importantly, engage people more in the whole process. I am afraid citizens might not be familiar with the African Union as an institution,” he said.
The continent has been criticised for having many regional economic groupings. Onyango argues that African Union can be used as an umbrella under which regional economic groupings can support economic integration process.
This is one of the elements of the ongoing AU reforms process.
Philbert Africa, the co-Founder of University of Kigali, highlighted that academic institutions can play a big role in promoting the idea of integration.