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Little Mogadishu, the EAC and a festival with a difference A community of peoples: bottom-up regional integration in the Horn of Africa

Eastleigh, Nairobi (Kenya) Photo: Notes Maphalala/Life & Peace Institute

This thematic issue of the Horn of Africa Bulletin (HAB) on the ‘A Community of Peoples: Bottom up Regional Integration in the Horn of Africa’ addresses the issue of integration in the Horn driven by bottom-up dynamics. This issue also seeks to draw attention to some of the gaps and questions bedevilling regional integration in the Horn and in the process, flag key policy questions, and suggest policy options. Being the last issue of the year, it was felt that this particular theme would be a fitting way to round off the year, eliding the pattern, where themes have focused on the problems afflicting the region.

Historically, the logic of regionalism in Africa has been driven by a political-economy rationale that instrumentalized regional integration as a tool to accelerate economic development and in the process reverse the historical global economic spatiality of power which had its roots in the colonial era. In this context, regionalism through regional economic communities has always been a pressing policy concern and agenda for African governments.

The ‘peace dividend’ that would follow from closer economic interdependence was also a key driver in pushing the regional integration agenda. The supposed peace dividend would follow from the reduced frequency of inter-state and intra-state conflicts due to expanding economic interdependence and accelerated economic development. A related outcome in relation to the peace dividend, would be the role of regional economic groupings in conflict management, resolution and peace keeping operations.

A stocktaking of actual regional integration in Africa, however, would lead to pessimistic conclusions. No regional economic community has advanced beyond the level of a customs union. Economic measures of regional integration and interdependence reveal that levels of intra-regional trade and investment remain at abysmal levels and have scarcely shown any progress over the years. On the other side of the coin, some regional economic groupings such as the SADC (Southern African Development Community) and the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) have successfully engaged themselves in regional peace and security actions.

In the Horn, the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development) provides the institutional framework for regional integration. An assessment relying solely on formal and macro-level indicators of regional integration[i] would show that the region lags behind other regional groupings in Africa. The structural obstacles to regional integration in the Horn are also critical in understanding the difficulties in accelerating economic integration.[ii] The IGAD has also achievements to its credit in the peace and security sphere as exemplified by the IGAD’s efforts in Somalia and mediation efforts to resolve the South Sudan crisis. Cooperation between states in the Horn in sphere of hydroelectric power generation and distribution, large scale road and rail projects and port utilization are another sphere where there has been substantial progress.

While the track record and prognosis for formal economic integration in the IGAD may appear bleak, this is only one side of the picture. There are dynamics that are often overlooked, which show that the IGAD region is actually even more integrated than captured by conventional measures of integration. One instance of this would be the critical role of ICBT (Informal Cross Border Trade) which plays a key role in the economies and livelihoods of borderland populations and closely ties together the Horn economies. Another aspect that reveals the closely integrated nature of the Horn would be migration flows in the region and the vital role of labour migrants in some Horn countries. These facts underline the criticality of informal and bottom-up processes in understanding the scale and depth of regional integration in the Horn and point to the importance of policy makers addressing the informal dynamics that link the Horn.

[i] Conventional indicators of economic integration rely mainly on economistic measures such as; intra-regional trade (imports and exports) as percentage/proportion of total trade flows, intra-regional investment (incoming and outgoing) as percentage/proportion of total investment, frameworks governing and barriers to capital investment at the regional level etc. Of these, intra-regional trade is usually taken as the most critical indicator of integration.

[ii] The lack of complementarity between Horn economies, distinct socio-economic policies and types of states, the pattern of intra-state conflict where antagonists often draw support from neighbouring states, the pattern of inter-state tensions and conflicts etc.