March 13, 2018—Top technocrats from across Africa met early this week in Kampala, to brainstorm the mismatch between good policy guidelines and the often haphazard or selective way implementation is carried out as the continent moves to strengthen economic cooperation.
The situation has given rise to protectionist tendencies especially non-tariff barriers (NTBs) as national interests frequently supersede regional objectives causing cross-border business to suffer amidst mutual complaints about unfair trading practices.
According to figures from the African Development Bank (AfDB,) trade among African countries expanded from 10% in 2000 to just under 18% in 2016. However administrative and transaction costs together with dodgy infrastructure and market segmentation remain persistent handicaps as African imports (excluding oil) are dominated by goods from China and the EU.
Speaking at the 20th African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) Senior Policy Seminar, the Prime Minister, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda said, “The question we should be asking ourselves here as policy makers, therefore, is: what needs to change for Africa to realise deeper integration on the continent?”
Bank of Uganda (BoU) was the joint host of the two-day event and this year the Nairobi-based AERC chose the theme ‘Rethinking regional Integration in Africa’. Last year in talks hosted by Cote d’Ivore it was industrialisation.
Dr. Rugunda told participants which included BoU Governor, Prof. Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile and his deputy, Dr, Louis Kasekende, “These seminars provide a timely opportunity for African policy makers, scholars and the private sector to engage in dialogue based on new knowledge to promote economic policies guided by rigour and evidence. Informed policy making is critical for sustainable African development.”
Three major economic blocs, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern Development Community (SADC) and the East Africa Community (EAC) are ganging up together and in July heads of state are set to sign up for the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) which is intended to create a single market.
Dr. Rugunda said regional economic communities were and are still expected to serves as building blocks for the African Economic Community. “These building blocks are at various stages of implementation and given the wide scope of regional integration in Africa, different Regional Economic Communities tend to emphasise different issues,” he said.
Prof. Tumusiime Mutebile said, “This seminar could not have come at a more opportune time than when most of our economies in Africa are faced with the challenges related to issues of integration. The seminar is unique in that sense that is has been organised to specifically discuss the potential effects of integration in the region and we feel particularly honoured to host this important event.”
Prof. Lemma Senbet, the Executive Director of the AERC said the leading role of the Consortium, which started out as a small think tank in 1988, is to deliver knowledge to policy makers. He said, “Integration is of great importance in the grand mission of a sustainable Africa.”
AERC is a public not-for-profit with the job of advancing economic policy research and training. Most of the participants to the seminar were senior central bankers and former ministers with a cross section of private sector representatives and economic researchers. The AfDB is major financier for AERC activities.
He said besides helping to build capacity across Africa for more informed decision-making, AERC has also harnessed a critical mass of people who are fully engaged in high-level decisions particularly in central banks. “However policy stakeholders need a sense of ownership to be effective. We need guidance and input from you for AERC to refine and develop new conversations based on new knowledge,” Prof. Senbet said.
According to AERC officials, the seminars provide an opportunity for policy makers and researchers to engage in uninterrupted deliberations on a set of important issues considered significant to policy making in Africa. The seminar format insulates the policy makers from pressures related to their responsibilities and, thus, creates an environment for lively professional discourse on the selected issue.
Exchange of country specific experiences is particularly important. Participants are normally identified for their interest in policy research issues and the level of seniority in policy analysis and policy making.
AERC says policy makers report that they have found their experiences in the seminars very useful. The information exchanged helps them update their knowledge in current policy oriented research and identify key issues relevant to their duties.
Researchers are typically balanced between the Anglophone and the Francophone, and attendance by the Francophone policy makers is highly encouraged.