“The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”:
Why “Africa” is Lost in the “Abuja Treaty” Translation
By E.K.Bensah Jr
There's a conspicuously delicious irony centred around Nigeria in African integration history: it's to do with the fact that despite that country's “gradualist” pretensions to African unity, it's capital city is an eponymous representation to what is perhaps the most ambitious project to unite Africa--the Abuja Treaty.
Signed in May 1991, it has been in operation since June 1994. But many Africans wouldn't know it, for despite efforts by the AU to operationalise it, it is perhaps the best-kept open secret in Africa--as perhaps are the regional economic communities(RECs)!
Abuja Treaty vs AEC and RECs
The Treaty establishing the African Economic Community(AEC) was signed in Abuja, Nigeria in 1991. The AEC offers a framework for continental integration. The RECS are mere building blocs towards the full realisation of the AEC.
As regards the AEC, it has set no less than SIX stages to be fully operational. Starting from 1994, it has allowed 34 years for FULL political and economic integration. That makes 2018/2019 an important year. So, if we're lucky, by 2020, the African Economic Community should be fully operational, with the eight AU-recognised RECs(AU-RECs) possibly subsumed under regions of North, Central, East, South and West African Economic Communities.
I believe the reality to be very different by 2020. As RECs gain prestige in their comparative advantages of peace/conflict management; infrastructure, etc, they are wont to maintain themselves as legal personalities in their own right, and not necessarily want to subsume their staff and competencies under one sub-regional economic community!
If what Ghanaian lawyer and academic Dr.Richard Frimpong Oppong says is anything to go by in his insightful March 2010 piece "The African Union, the African Economic Community and Africa's Regional Economic Communities", given that the African Economic Community does not have a legal personality--that is to say that it has rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and liabilities under law, just as natural persons (humans) do--it already makes the framework upon which the African Union operates rather shaky and tenuous.
This is because while there is a protocol establishing the relationship between the AEC and RECs, "to what extent are the RECs bound by decisions of the AEC? Since the RECs, which have their own legal personality, are not parties to the AEC Treaty, what is the legal basis for assuming that they will merge and form the African Economic Community?"[italics are that of Dr.Oppong in his piece on p.94]
In my opinion, this is the crux of his piece--and a very important one at that too. Even more important is "rationalising", if you will, the relationship between the AEC and RECs as they progress and advance in their development. This other important point ought not to be lost on as we cogitate over the future of African integration and where the AU is going.
In my view, Dr.Oppong has opened up a whole new can of worms around African integration, and one which, in the light of the challenges the AU has been going through this year with Libya, merits serious consideration.
The specific case of Africa being “lost in the Abuja Treaty translation” is two-fold: one is historical; and the other has to do with the kind of vilification Nigeria goes through every now and then over its governance.
History shows us that Nigeria’s vision of continental union was not always as progressive as it has been made out to be. Long before the then-OAU was established in May 1963, Nigeria was all too happy being part of the so-called 24-member “Monrovia” group, which were more conservative and gradualist about how Africa should be united. Comprising Nigeria, Liberia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Cameroon—among many other countries—they were opposed to the “big-bang” integration advocated by the more radical members of the six-member Casablanca group, which included Ghana; Guinea; Mali; Egypt and Morocco.
It is ironic therefore that both the abortive Lagos Plan of Action and the Abuja Treaty would all be done in the most populous Black African country.
Secondly, despite the fact that corruption and/or chaos have been by-words of that country, we cannot escape the fact that, like Brussels being synonymous with the European Union institutions, Abuja is also increasingly a by-word for West Africa’s regional grouping of ECOWAS and its institutions.
As we now know, it is even more: Abuja has not just played host to a number of important meetings on Africa, its governance, and its integration throughout the years, but also has an important document outlining continental integration named after the capital city. Additionally, even if it was the Treaty of Lagos that set up ECOWAS in 1975, it is now in Abuja that many diplomatic missions worldwide flock to get closer to what has been termed in some quarters as Africa’s most dynamic regional economic community this side of the Sahara. Add the fact that Abuja is set to host the third pillar of the Pan-African financial institution—the African Central Bank—and we have for ourselves an “African Brussels” to watch out for.
The extent to which we—as African Union community citizens—can accept the double-edged sword of Nigeria both as a great country that is flawed and tainted by corruption, but one that will inevitably play critical roles in the facilitation of continental union will largely depend on how truly committed we all are to seeing an Africa predicated on strong, sustainable, effective and credible institutions that are funded by Africans – for the benefit of the continent.
ekbensah AT critiquing-regionalism.org
In 2009, in his capacity as a “Do More Talk Less Ambassador” of the 42nd Generation—an NGO that promotes and discusses Pan-Africanism--Emmanuel gave a series of lectures on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in facilitating a Pan-African identity. Emmanuel owns "Critiquing Regionalism" (http://www.critiquing-regionalism.org). Established in 2004 as an initiative to respond to the dearth of knowledge on global regional integration initiatives worldwide, this non-profit blog features regional integration initiatives on MERCOSUR/EU/Africa/Asia and many others. You can reach him on firstname.lastname@example.org / Mobile: 0268.687.653.