Would you describe yourself as an African? Or is your primary identity based on your nationality?
That was one of the thought-provoking questions raised by senior German official Dominik Ziller during a panel discussion on regional integration at the Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
Ziller was one of three senior representatives from South America, Asia and Europe who shared insights from their own experiences with regional integration on Wednesday. Ziller was joined by Toshio Oya from Japan's Ministry of Finance and Marcos Guimaraes from Brazil's Ministry of the Economy.
The theme of the discussion was "Driving Economic Prosperity through Regional Integration: Lessons from Experience and Opportunities Ahead," in keeping with the theme of this year's Annual Meetings, and in line with one of the High 5 strategic areas of the African Development Bank.
The theme reflects the continent's growing charge to create the world's largest free trade zone, in the form of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which received the requisite 22nd endorsement in April this year. African ministers of trade will devise a launch plan at a summit meeting on 7 July 2019.
One of the objectives of the AfCFTA is to boost trade among African countries. Ziller lauded the African Union's goal to push intra-Africa trade to 50% in 20 years from current levels of around 15%, adding that global trade relations should be maintained.
"I think this harmonisation will also lead us to an Africa that has a stronger voice," said Ziller, who works for Germany's Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and is a Temporary Governor of the African Development Bank.
Guimaraes said South America's Mercosur was still in the first phase of integration. Mercosur, established in the 1990s, was largely a customs union, and does not have a single currency, unlike most countries in the European Union.
"This is a continuous effort. The work is always in progress about what can be done next ... You don't have a finish line beyond which you say, 'We got it, we have regional integration the way we want,'" said Guimaraes.
Several African regional economic communities have already made progress on convergence, including the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), which each make use of a single currency. The Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) has set 2020 as the deadline for a monetary union.
Other regions have introduced travel and trade reforms in order to ease integration, such as the single-entry visa for Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda in East Africa, while the Southern African Customs Union is the oldest in the world.
Oya said a deft touch was required to deal with complex issues in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
"A big challenge in Asia is to treat different countries fairly ... When we work on regional projects, we are faced with lots of difficult issues, so then we need to rely on a multilateral development bank as a coordinator ... Sometimes we need to relocate elephants. It's a big challenge, and they do not listen to us, elephants."
Ziller said the EU was not deterred by the recent challenges surrounding Britain's exit from the union, commonly known as Brexit.
"I am absolutely confident that the European Union will survive ... I think what is important, if you look at the European Union, is that we did it step by step ... Sooner or later, this will become so attractive that everybody will want to join."