The roll out of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Virtual University of Regional Integration will feature in this week’s third annual research forum of the regional bloc which started in Kigali on Monday, organisers say.
The COMESA is a free trade area with 19 member states including Rwanda.
The teaching programme is poised to start in September with the admission of the pioneer students at the Kenyatta University of Kenya, the host institution of the programme, for a Masters of Regional Integration (MRI).
“The virtual university is not yet established. They are still in the process of acquiring all the requisite legal requirements. They hope to be through with these in August so that the first intake happens in September. This is the tentative plan,” Robert Opirah, Director General of trade in the Ministry of Trade, Industry and EAC Affairs who opened the forum told The New Times.
The region’s virtual university was approved in October 2016 during the 19th Heads of State Summit held in Madagascar.
A total of 22 universities from member states are collaborating in this programme and also participated in the review of 30 teaching modules in March.
“This region will not be the same again as we shall now have a special cadre of professionals specially trained on regional integration to move forward the integration agenda,” said Dr Francis Mangeni, the Director of Trade and Customs in COMESA.
The virtual university is envisaged to be a specialist graduate institution for interdisciplinary research and training in regional integration conducted on a digital platform.
Accordingly, the launch of the Virtual University was inspired by the need to hasten the slow pace of regional integration in the region, and in the rest of the continent. This, it is noted, is in addition to the evident inability of States to implement the numerous protocols, decisions and Acts due to the apparent lack of institutional and human capital and related support mechanisms.
The third COMESA Annual Research Forum, taking place in Kigali, throughout this week, is bringing together leading policy research think tanks, academia, and the private sector from member states.
Anchored under the theme: “Boosting Intra-African Trade through Regional Economic Communities: Perspectives from COMESA Regional Integration Programme,” the forum seeks to strengthen participation of governments and stakeholders in the regional integration agenda by sharing and discussing research findings.
It also seeks to create a common understanding on the region’s research priorities for COMESA as the largest Regional Economic Community (REC) in Africa. It is acknowledged that RECs have continued to individually pursue integration agenda both as a development and transformative strategy whose basis is free trade, customs unions and common market within their respective jurisdictions.
In February, the bloc invited experts to submit abstracts for research papers on the theme and more than 60 of them were received.
Out of these, 24 were accepted and the authors have been invited to present the full papers at the Kigali forum.