Nairobi (Kenya), August 19, 2013
“Regional integration is one critical factor in efforts to achieve sustainable development in East Africa. This sustainability does not mean the maintenance of the status quo but should look at the long term development needs of the region. The region should integrate because it is the right thing to do at this time”, said Ambassador Richard Sezibera, the Secretary General of East African Community (EAC).
Dr Sezibara was delivering the 7th CUTS 30th Anniversary Lecture on the theme: “Regional Integration for Sustainable Development in East African Community” at Nairobi yesterday.
The event was chaired by Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, incoming Secretary General of UNCTAD, which included discussants: Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International; Frank Maetsart CEO of Trade Mark East Africa; Mr. Lamin Manneh, Chief Regional Integration Officer from African Development Bank and Prof. Jasper Okelo, WTO Chair, School of Economics, University of Nairobi. The event included over 250 participants from the civil society; government; diplomats; academia; research institutions; private sector; media and development partners.
“CUTS has done very useful work on regional integration process especially through applied research, advocacy and networking and also partnered with the EAC Secretariat in its projects on trade, climate change and food security” said Dr Sezibara. “We value this relationship highly and look forward to more cooperation”.
Dr Kituyi in his opening remarks inter alia spoke about the need for developing countries to fashion the development narrative, rather than be guided to what comes from elsewhere. He also stressed on regional integration as a building block for the multilateral system.
“Examining the history of Africa over the centuries, there has always been the struggle for sovereignty and state building after independence, yet in spite of those challenges, the continent has been able to navigate. Currently, we are experiencing the rise of a new Africa which is dynamic, vibrant, sure of its destiny and continues to fine and refine its narrative. However, Africa still has unfinished agenda, which is integrating and mobilizing her people to fully achieve the narrative that is being refined” asserted Dr Sezibara.
Integration of markets is crucial for trade, commerce and industrialization. East Africa, with an estimated population of 133 million people and still growing, presents a huge market opportunity that attracts investments as noted by Mr Lamin Manneh of the African Development Bank.
Besides, no country has developed by turning inward and keeping the others out. Those that did were forced to change. It can therefore be concluded that international trade is a prerequisite for development. “If you cannot trade with your neighbour, you will trade your neighbour” said Sezibera, referring to East Africa during the colonial times, which included slave trade.
On progress in the integration process, the protocol for a monetary union is to be signed in September then the journey to political federation begins, said Dr Sezibara. “This however calls for harmonization of monetary policies, regulation and discipline in public sector debt so that partner states are not exposed to a similar crisis like the recent one in the Eurozone”.
Other areas where cooperation has been identified is harmonization in the sharing of natural resources in a sustainable manner, multilateral negotiations in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as well as cooperation on security and defense.
On the above issues, Dr Kituyi stressed the importance of building capacity for African negotiators to effectively engage in these processes from a regional perspective.
EAC intends to reach middle income status within this generation; this is possible but not with balkanized states and it explains the EAC rational integration, which takes a share of 3 of the top 6 fastest growing economies in the world, all in Africa.
Frank Maetsart noted that one of the basics is raising competitiveness for trade and tackling the inefficiencies at the ports as well as other infrastructural bottlenecks. Jasper Okelo strengthened this by arguing that “regional integration is not for debate, we either have it or forget about development”.
Finally, cultural homogeneity is not a prerequisite for regional integration; rather it is the will, determination and enactment of the right policies which spurs integration. A good example is India, said Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International; “India is multilingual, multiracial, multi-religious, multicultural and has managed to hold on together as a country and achieve much, in terms of development. Therefore, the different cultures in East Africa should not be seen as an obstacle to integration”.
“India has had a long term political relationship with most countries in Africa over the years, which was built up around the common legacy of colonialism. She will continue to deepen her relationship with Africa which includes providing soft skills in many areas of governance, and CUTS too will play an important role in this effort”, said Mehta.
“Our next two public lectures are also designed on regional integration in Africa. Besides, CUTS is opening its third centre in Accra this month which will be inaugurated by Ms Hanna Tetteh, Ghana’s Foreign and Regional Integration Minister which includes her lecture on regional integration in West Africa”, said Mehta.
In his vote of thanks, Clement Onyango, Director of CUTS Nairobi Centre said that CUTS works as a complement to efforts being made by governments and intergovernmental organisations rather than as a competitor.
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