On Tuesday, July 20, the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Manchester Trade Ltd co-hosted a half-day experts’ roundtable discussion on African regional integration through the continent’s regional economic communities (RECs) and ways in which transatlantic partners can support African economic integration. The roundtable discussion was attended by members of the U.S. government, representatives of the European Union and its member states, African embassy representatives and both private sector and civil society experts on RECs and regional economic integration in Africa. The event also featured three special guests from REC secretariats in Africa.
The discussion covered three broad issue areas, namely the state of play, priorities and challenges for the RECs; the role of the private sector and other regional bodies; and ways in which transatlantic partners can advance shared goals. While a variety of sub-topics covered over the course of the morning, several themes were persistently raised.
The first was that of political will and demand. Given that regional integration necessarily involves trade-offs such as ceding sovereignty, what are the limits of regional integration? Did the world’s most prominent example of regional integration, the European Union, integrate by making large, public sacrifices or by “stealth,” integrating over a long period of time by taking small steps? The second prominent theme was the need for increased private investment. Are there donor models that involve government as a supporting, rather than a leading, partner? How can stakeholders work together to encourage greater business investment in Africa? The final, and related, theme concerned donor practices. Given the pervasive lack of data in a number of areas (trade data, accurate cost-benefit analyses, etc.), how can donors make informed decisions without missing opportunities? How can donors coordinate better with each other, and how can they make projects and decision-making more inclusive, starting at the project inception phase? Many of these issues are particularly salient at the regional level, given the extra layer of coordination and compromise that working regionally requires.
Participants raised various recommendations and observations during the roundtable. Five of those recommendations were as follows:
- Work with all partners from the inception of development projects, particularly businesses and regional decision-makers. To the extent possible, allow business and African representatives to be “majority shareholders,” with donor governments playing a support role.
- Work from specifics (products, identified priorities) instead of guesses or generalizations (i.e., take a “demand-driven” approach).
- Provide capacity and tools to help identify priorities in the first place, and to allow for information-sharing and communication between RECs and member states, RECs and other regional bodies such as Development Corridor authorities, and among the RECs themselves.
- Pay special attention to finance for infrastructure and to facilitate business investment.
- As appropriate, coordinate donor activities through regional bodies in order to encourage donor cooperation and avoid duplicative or unwanted projects.