African economies have always been the appendages of world capitalist economy remaining at the periphery for ages. Political independence, although a necessary factor for African all rounded self-determination never guaranteed economic development. Africa still marks the highest population growth in the world with about 2.6 % coupled with ethnic conflicts, manmade and human recurrent disasters, and multiple sets of epidemic and now COVID-19 pandemic, arms trafficking, terrorism, monoculture agriculture with outdated technology and poor manufacturing sector. If Africa is to shape a bright future for the coming generation, this bleak situation undoubtedly needs to be reversed.
Speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa in 1963 Dr Kwame Nekrumah said: “We must unite in order to achieve the full liberation of our continent”.
The rapid development of the so called developed countries invariably depends upon what Andre Gunther Frank called the development of under development of poor countries across the world and notably Africa and more specifically Sub- Sahara and East Africa. With the current state of affairs, African countries may not have the chance for sustainable development as long as their economies are dwarfed by foreign aid and irreversible foreign debt.
The forefathers of Africa and the founders of Pan-Africanism and its institutional forbearer, the OAU had long predicted on the expediency of buttressing Pan-Africanism with the necessary level of comprehensive continental economic integration among member countries. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa in 1963 said. “We must unite in order to achieve the full liberation of our continent”. He added, “Yet all stock exchanges in the world are pre-occupied with Africa’s gold, diamonds, uranium, platinum, copper and iron ore. We have been too busy nursing our separate states to understand fully the basic need of our union, rooted in common purpose, common planning and common endeavor”.
In 1965, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea wrote “Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children…”
Under current circumstances the need for East African economic integration in the context of Agenda 2063 has recently been clearly enumerated by Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed in his contribution to Project Syndicate in 2020 in which he wrote:
“Africa’s ability to become a strong geopolitical force hinges on its own internal cohesion and economic integration. An Africa that increasingly trades with itself will create an internal market large enough for its producers to benefit from economies of scale. By investing in value-added activities, these firms can help to ensure that the continent is no longer merely a supplier of raw materials and a market for other countries’ goods and services”
Upon completing his shuttle diplomacy to several African countries in the recent past, the Premier twitted “Now is the time for Africa, let us pull out of abject poverty together. Let us ensure our security in unison. Let us thrust out from begging others to provide us with our own dignity. Let us ensure Agenda 2063 by integrating our economies, pulling together our resources”
In Africa, there are myriad of economic integration schemes have mushroomed but in most cases overlap. Africa has a long history of regional economic cooperation and integration. The establishment of major regional integration schemes between 1960 and 1980 including the Preferential Trading Area (PTA) at the lower end of the integration spectrum to Economic Union at the upper end. Africa’s major regional integration groupings that are currently in operation include the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), the Community of Sahel – Saharan States (CEN-SAD), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), with memberships of 5, 18, 20, 10, 15, 7 and 14 states, respectively.
The sub-sets of some of these major regional integration schemes are also involved in the implementation of Africa’s economic integration agenda. Such sub-regional groupings include the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), the Economic Community of the Great Lake Countries (CEPGL), the East African Community (EAC), the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), the Mano River Union (MRU) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA).
Economic integration among countries of the Horn and larger East Africa for instance could invariably target exploiting the natural resources of the countries in the region for common and equitable development of the countries.
For instance, Ethiopia, already known as the water tower of Africa has already started to provide renewable hydroelectric power to Djibouti and Sudan with further possibility of provision for Kenya, South Sudan, and other countries in the Eastern part of Africa. At this point in time when African industries suffer from power shortage, Ethiopia can provide cheaper and clean energy resources through integrated power girds that can be planted in cooperation with neighboring African countries and that are afar.
Ethiopia has one of the most advanced aviation services recently transporting COVID-19 vaccines in Africa and is already connecting a considerable number of African countries. The Ethiopian Airlines Group, well known around the world, is an important asset for African integration. Besides, Ethiopia has a railway network that extends to Djibouti and is intending to continue to process the construction of railway network to Sudan and other neighboring countries in the future.
Furthermore, Djibouti, Eretria, Somaliland, Kenya can further modernize and expand their current port services to facilitate efficient trade among Horn countries while asphalt road networks can further be developed to connect each country.
In addition, each country of the Horn of Africa and East can get into development of value added products with area specialization and comparative advantage for each country.
Economic integration between the countries of the Horn of African and East Africa requires developing basic infrastructural facilities and streamlining on cancellation of any possible trade barriers. On the other hand, countries in the region have enough human resources and skilled manpower for all economic sectors but sharing experience and building mutual capacities in areas of visible gaps is important.
Economic integration promotes peace building process in the Horn of Africa and is also useful to curb contraband, human and arms trafficking, illegal financial transactions and other crimes including cyber-crimes.
It is to be noted that economic integration between African countries cannot be done overnight or on a red carpet. Even the countries of the Horn of Africa, although almost all of them are yet to develop are not on the same level in terms of uniformity of growth in all economic sectors. Issues of security, natural and manmade calamities still stand out. Despite these challenges, with better leadership political commitments, Africa can cruise through the battle against poverty through viable integratory schemes and Ethiopia is already pioneering inn this regard.