“The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”:
Hot Issues on the AU needing popular advocacy (I) – or Travelling Cheaply in Africa, & Southern Sudan
By E.K.Bensah Jr
Given the untimely passing of Qaddafi, it is all-too predictable to write more column inches about the man and his works for Africa. Suffice-to-say if Africa had a more vivacious media than we like to think we have, then media practitioners should have been making more noise about the manner in which his body was dragged through the streets of Sirte, and how the distribution of footage of his bloodied body worldwide shattered to smithereens any sense of decency the media is supposed to have – anywhere.
That notwithstanding, today I want to focus on equally-important issues that have lost their way off the radar of mainstream news.
Travelling cheaper in Africa?
For the longest time, travelling throughout Africa has been a hellish affair, what with never-falling cost of air tickets and entry of new airlines. Take the case of travelling throughout the sub-region, where the average cost of a ticket is around 500USD. This absolutely-unacceptable situation is made all the more painful by the fact that despite the increasing assertiveness of the eight-AU-recognised regional economic communities (ECOWAS; CENSAD; Arab Magreb Union; SADC; COMESA; ECCAS; East African Community; and IGAD), there are virtually no “regional carriers” that represent the “power” of the RECs.
It seems forever that ECOWAS has been talking about “ECOAIR”, which would be the carrier for the ECOWAS sub-region. We all know that it has not happened. There is a glimmer of hope that ECOWAS will make some headway on the viability of air transport—as per the meeting it is holding as I write this—but results are likely to be very slow in coming.
The meeting in question is attended by air transport experts and Chief Executive Officers of airlines from all the 15 ECOWAS Member States, with the objective of discussing “measures of creating an enabling environment conducive for viable, efficient, affordable and sustainable air transport industry in the West Africa sub region.” While this is encouraging, it looks like the real nettlesome challenge about travelling cheaply in West Africa has everything to do with air fuel costs.
To this end, in August, the 33-member Association of African Airlines (AFRAA) resolved to work on the project whose aim is to lower fuel costs for Africa, by jointly purchasing fuel. With only 33 members of the association,however, I wonder whether it is not high-time the AU is lobbied to join and help subsidise and operationalise this project?
Whither the future of CEN-SAD?
The Community of Sahel-Saharan States was established in 1998 by the late Colonel Qaddafi. After the rationalization of the regional economic communities in 2006, it became an AU-REC – that is one of the eight RECs mandated and recognized by the African Union. It has twenty-eight members, and Ghana is a member.
Despite many meetings that had taken place and a fully-functioning website on http://www.censad.org, the uprising that started in Libya in March threw a huge spanner in the works of the organisation, effectively throwing the regional grouping out of sync with the other RECs at its base in Tripoli. Regrettably, the conspicuous absence of the African Union itself on the future of CENSAD has not helped dispel the notion that the AU is nothing more than a “toothless” bulldog.
The passing of Qaddafi will effectively take the wind out of the sails of CENSAD, probably throwing all the good work – including the Great Green Wall being built along the sub-region to protect the region from climate change; as well as the establishment of a free-trade area of ECOWAS-UEMOA-CENSAD/ECOWAS-CENSAD/ECCAS along the likes of the SADC-COMESA-EAC tripartite free trade area, which was mooted in 2008.
Going forward, I would expect to see the AU taking serious the need to engage the National Transitional Council in Libya on their commitments to the African Union. This would include discussions on Libya and where it stands on the establishment of the AU-mandated and Tripoli-hosted African Investment Bank, as well as the state of play of CEN-SAD, and how it can be factored into discussions of Africa’s ongoing discussions over Africa’s integration.
South Sudan – which REC to belong to?
South Sudan might have slipped off the radar of news—not because it is not important, but other hot issues might naturally have tipped it off. Still, what has not been making the rounds too much has been the regional economic community to which South Sudan should belong. Given the location of that country, one cannot take it for granted that they would necessarily want to go with their Northern counterpart—and to the RECs is no exception.
There is no mechanism that can predict that South Sudan will want to become member of the East Africa Community or the IGAD. And what of COMESA? This is an important debate that African media practitioners – aware of the utility and increasing assertiveness of the RECs – might be ruminating over on the continent.
Although there have been major developments around South Sudan and its membership of some of these RECs, the point I am making here is about the absence of a debate in much of the African media. Going forward, African media practitioners, including here in Ghana, should move beyond the stage of talking about other AU member states only when they’re, at best, embroiled in conflict and/or at worst, are headline news over at the BBC!
You might be happy to know that South Sudan was made a member of COMESA at the 15th Comesa Heads of State and Government summit on 14th October in Malawi. Furthermore, on 17 October, South Sudan President General Salva Kiir confirmed that his country has started on the application process to become a member of the East African Community (EAC).
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.