Abuja — Mr. Rene Kouassi, Director of Economic Affairs, African Union Commission has urged experts this week to advance regional integration goals and move from 'intergovernmentalism to supranaturalism and from corporation to integration.' Mr Kouassi was speaking to the Committee of Experts of the Seventh Joint Annual Meetings of the ECA Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development and AU Conference of Ministers of Economy and Finance this week in one of key sessions aimed at a final report to be presented at a ministerial segment starting Saturday.
He said that the major obstacle to making this transition was what he termed as "attachment to sovereignty."
"In order to integrate successfully, states must sacrifice some of their sovereignty, but this is often difficult to accept," stated Mr. Kouassi.
He reminded delegates that the Abuja Treaty, which established the creation of the African Economic Community (AEC) and set integration goals for Africa, had been entered into force in 1994. He discussed the progress of the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), pointing out that the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) have both already launched their respective Customs Unions, and that EAC has a Common Market. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is on track to institute a Customs Union in 2015.
"Africa is due to complete a continental customs agreement by 2019', said Mr. Kouassi adding; "if current progress continues, meeting this deadline is very much within reach."
While there are some successes, he acknowledged that there are still many communities lagging behind.
Existing barriers to integration include the lack of free movement of people between countries without visas, the very limited amount (12%) of inter-country trade, and the fact that the continent has over 40 currencies. He also said poor infrastructure and under-industrialization in Africa are, among others, obstacles to integration.
"However, if agreements that are currently under discussion become reality, then the continent will be in a good position to accomplish its integration goals," he said.
Mr. Kouassi reiterated the need for economic and political integration stating that it would lead to a prosperous and peaceful Africa, one that is managed by its own "sons and daughters."
He also emphasized that Africa must move from corporation to integration or risk compromising the vision for inclusive development.
"If we don't agree to share our sovereignty, I believe we will be wasting our time," he added.
In the discussions that followed, delegates suggested the need for evaluative criteria around integration, such as a 'score card' that could be regularly disseminated.
Delegates from several countries cited lack of political will as the greatest obstacle to integration, with the delegate from Sudan acknowledging that "losing sovereignty frightens many people."
Delegates suggested touting the advantages of integration more clearly and more vocally, and using the "scorecard" to hold countries accountable. The delegate from Sierra Leone underscored the importance of integration in pointing out that conflict and disease always cross borders, but discussions around economics often fail to see commonalities.
The delegate from Mauritius added that maritime transportation was notably absent in the integration analysis and should be included in future reports as it could benefit the island countries and many of the continental countries as well.
He described how Mauritius proactively opened up its borders and now permits citizens from 47 African countries to enter without a visa.
Mr. Kouassi commended Mauritius on this point, and challenged the other countries to break that record.