“The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”:
Africa's rise and how it’s Time to Project AU Power!
By E.K.Bensah Jr
If there were ever a greatest exponent of serendipity, it must have been when I found myself in the home of the African Union in March 2011. Unbeknownst to many, I met my kindred spirit—Mr. Stuart Hastings of towardsunity.org—in person for the first time. I had met him two years earlier online when I was searching through tomes of material on comparative regional integration and trying to find out also whether there were other souls concerned more with the comparative approach on regionalism than simply the single-minded one where, say, the AU, EU or ECOWAS is the main focus.
I would come across Stuart’s site and immediately spark a conversation with him about how the tectonic plates were shifting towards regional unions, and how we both needed to play a part in that change.
His website, then as now, was clear: to travel the world from his home town of Canada and return to produce a book on how far regional unions, such as the EU, MERCOSUR; African Union; and ASEAN can promote promote peace and humanity through democratic dispensations they offer in their institutional structures, and how it was important to re-think some of the current narratives driving hegemons in those respective unions.
So it would be that Stuart and I would meet on 19 March, 2011 at Lime Tree cafe, situated in the rather plush Boston Day Spa on the lush and swanky Bole Road in Addis. I will never forget that day for the people who were there—Stuart Hastings; and a young official of the UN Economic Commission for Africa who might never confess in public he is a Pan-Africanist—and for the fact that after I got back to my hotel, I would catch the news on BBC and Al-Jazeera that a multi-state coalition had began a military intervention in Libya to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.
I had had a stress-free visit to the AU building days earlier, and so it seemed a bit surreal to see diplomats fluttering in and out after 19 March all over television. It was even harder to believe that the-then almost-completed AU building would play host to an apparent impotence of AU officials and policy-makers it would soon host almost a year later.
It is easy to speculate that it is probably these apparently-impotent AU policy-makers who have just witnessed the inauguration of the new, 28-floor AU building at the just-ended 18th session of the AU in the Ethiopian capital. After the cacophony over the past few days of this Chinese gift to the Africans and the numerous speculations that have abounded over possible quid-pro-quos that might be associated with this expensive gift, it's time to get serious.
There's no gainsaying that China will expect some favours from Africa for having built this building that supposedly towers over the whole of Addis. To harp on it, in my view, is as relevant as claiming that the Europeans and Western donors who pay some sixty percent of many African countries’ budget would expect these-same countries to be indebted to them. The argument is even a non-starter. What I would hope we would talk about are two major things.
First – how it symbolises a renaissance of South-South cooperation and second, how it is a projection of the increasing power of the African Union.
Symbolism of the AU building
Both experts and amateurs on African integration, and Western journalists alike have been speculating over what China is likely to expect from the building they have donated to the African Union. What, for me, took the biscuit was no less than the venerable BBC World Service’s very respected “News Hour” programme on Sunday 29th January interviewing the East African correspondent Will Ross, with an angle that was Sino-African centred in a way that suggested that China wants our natural resources, knows Africa is rising and so wants to capitalize on that rise. In my view, this is not analysis; it is common-sense. There really is no such thing as a free lunch. It is just that with the Chinese, they deliver that lunch faster and with few conditions. That may be the beauty of the relationship, and I believe what African integration watchers all over must be doing right now is to use this as an opportunity to explore and enhance the Sino-African relationship.
In 2010, UNCTAD launched the Economic Development in Africa report. Entitled “South-South Cooperation: Africa and the New Forms of Development Partnerships” it examined recent trends in the economic relationships of Africa with other developing countries and the new forms of partnership that are animating those relationships.
The increasing role of large developing countries in global trade, finance, investment and governance, coupled with their rapid economic growth, has stimulated debate on the implications for Africa´s development.
The report urges African nations to intensify efforts at developing better productive capacities to maximize their gains from the emerging partnerships and the gradual global shift of economic power to the East from the West. African countries, the report states “have to produce goods with high income elasticities of demand and that present greater opportunities for export market expansion”.
The report comprises five chapters dealing with the challenges and opportunities in South-South cooperation, Africa’s trade with developing countries, southern official flows to Africa, southern Foreign Direct Investment to Africa and making South-South Cooperation work for Africa.
The report concludes that Africa-South Cooperation—whether it is Sino— or Indio—not only has the potential to enhance Africa´s capacity to address its development challenges but the full realization of the benefits requires gearing cooperation towards the development of productive capacities across the region.
Bottom line is that Africa as a continent does not yet have a unified strategy relating to Africa-South cooperation and this is evidenced in part, for example, by the way in which the 2010 report was produced by UNCTAD, and not the African Union. Going forward, the AU can use the donation of the building to consolidate the Sino-African relationship—perhaps around infrastructure? — and create an effective strategy round it in a way that will slowly and surely put paid to the West’s.
Projection of power in the AU’s 10th anniversary year!
Who has not seen pictures of the Brussels-based European Commission on TV and thought “wow, that’s a huge building!” And for those who have seen it in person, there’s no gainsaying it’s a rather imposing building. This contrasts sharply with what Stuart Hasting related to in one of our numerous discussions of his globe-trotting in Asia to see the secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Nepal.
First and most importantly, after having been established in 1985, one would have thought that they might have upgraded their building a little. Pictures online of the Secretariat are consistent with the descriptions associated with Hasting’s sojourn anecdotes. This has prompted much speculation among those of us committed to propagating the development of regional unions and groupings – especially in the developing world— as good – and the greatest exemplification of the very-necessary projection of power the AU so needs to do. Given that this is coming in the tenth anniversary of the African Union, this could not but be a better and fitting presage of Africa’s putative rise!
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://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: +233-268.687.653.