By Innocent Gore
Integration is a necessity for the development of Africa, the acting head of the African Union’s private sector development, investment and resource mobilisation, Islam Swaleh, has said.
Speaking to senior journalists at media awareness workshop on Africa industrialisation frameworks hosted by the AU Commission’s Trade and Industry in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last week, Swaleh said in recent years, many actions had been completed across the continent towards integration, but these were still insufficient.
He noted that of Africa’s eight regional economic communities (RECs), it was only the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the East African Community (EAC) which had so far set up regional customs union.
The other RECs, namely the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of African States (ECCA), the Intergovernmental Development Authority (IGAD), Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), and the African Maghreb Union (AMU) were still to set up regional customs unions, but had managed to implement or were in the process of implementing tariff and non-tariff barriers, and regional free trade areas in line with the Abuja Treaty of 1991 and 1994.
The Abuja Treaty seeks to establish the African Economic Community (AEC). It was adopted on 3 June I991 in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, and entered into force on 12 May 1994. The treaty has been signed by all member states of the African Union. The establishment of the AEC will be done gradually through RECs which will be used as the building blocks.
The Abuja Treaty envisaged Africa establishing and strengthening RECs by 1999, implementing tariff and non-tariff barriers between 2000 and 2007; and the establishment of regional FTAs and regional customs unions between 2008 and 2017. The treaty also envisaged a continental customs union between 2018 and 2019; an African common market between 2020 and 2023, and an African Monetary an Economic Union between 2024 and 2028.
Swaleh noted some achievements in some RECs, with the EAC having put in place a three-month visa-free stay for African nationals and six months for EAC passport holders. The region had also put in place a single tourist visa which was now being used in some of the EAC member states. Rwanda and Ethiopia had signed an open skies agreement to allow national airlines to operate freely with no limitations in their airspace in March, 2016, and EAC member states had signed and ratified a treaty for a single currency.
They had also launched an East African passport which was now operational, with Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda having agreed to operationalise and harmonise the entry and departure declaration card, and classification of work permits.
COMESA had implemented a three-month visa on arrival to all citizens of FTA member states; and put in place the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) IT system for all customs clearance procedures in 16 of the 19 FTA countries, while the three remaining member states use compatible systems.
The regional body had also created the COMESA Monetary Institute to address the monetary policy and economic convergence the towards the monetary union. On trade facilitation instruments, COMESA had put in place one-stop border post between Zambia and Zimbabwe; and a second one was being developed between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In ECOWAS, Swaleh said there was visa-free travel throughout member countries and that national passports were being converted to the ECOWAS regional passport and seven countries had already started using it.
ECOWAS had also set up three joint-border posts to ease cross border movement to curtail harassments and reduce time as well as costs while four projects were ongoing.
In the SADC region, member states granted three-month visa free stays through bilateral agreements while the SADC Regional Electronic Settlement System (SIRESS) had been developed to settle regional financial transactions – from between two and three days to 24 hours. This was operational in four countries since July 2013, and an additional nine joined in 2015.
Regional integration had resulted in the setting up of the Power Pool (Dam) of Central Africa (PEAC) in ECCAS member states, an institutional framework for regional cooperation and fulfilment of policy commitments to exploit potential energy of the region. Member states were working on the Grand Inga Dam project in the DRC with SADC, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the East African Power Pool, the Southern African Power Pool and the African Development Bank, he said.
In the CEN-SAD region, there was progress on the issue of visas, with holders of diplomatic and service passports and special envoys duly authorised by the high authority of the state to be exempted from entry visas for stay not exceeding 30 consecutive days in the member states.
In the IGAD region, a Sustainable Tourism Master Plan was put in place in 2013 and the region was now mobilising capital and technical resources. Ethiopia became the first country to implement it in July 2014. IGAD had also completed a study for Streamlining One-Stop Border Posts (OSBPs) and was working to domesticate best practices and enhancing synergies in member state’s customs departments.
“The African Union with its agenda 2063 and its programmes offer an opportunity to Africa to believe in integration as well as in its development,” Swaleh said.
“Funding for these programmes is the key to their implementation…we must join forces to achieve its implementation.”