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Africa’s bumpy road to regional economic cooperation

7 Mins read

Africa’s bumpy road to regional economic cooperation

REGIONAL INTEGRATION AND ECONOMIC COOPERATION are no strange terms to Africa. In fact, the practical application of these two terms in Africa predates their popular acclaim and application in many other continents. What is a stranger to Africa, however, is the fact the application of those terms are yet to translate into real practical impacts within Africa. We have examined the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and some of its ramifications and implications to some extent. Now, we turn the searchlight on the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).  Like other regional economic blocs in Africa, ECCAS was created to cater to the economic development of member countries within the areas designated as Central Africa. But ECCAS is both similar to, and different from, ECOWAS in some remarkable ways. The ECCAS story is also a story of different parts of a big continent known as Africa. It is a story that reveals underdevelopment existing side by side with great potential for prosperity, and instances of what slows down the region. The 11 member countries of ECCAS, like most regional economic communities within the continent, are lagging behind on the productive economic criteria, for a plethora of reasons.

According to the Africa regional integration index, “the disparities among member states’ overall regional integration scores are large.” It is thus clear that development arising from shared economic activities has been minimal. The index revealed further that none of ECCAS members has bilateral investment treaties in force. This is happening at a time the African Continental Free Trade Agreement has gone underway within Africa. Like the ECOWAS, ECCAS has two broad categories of central administration, one inside the other. The CEMAC is a monetary union inside ECCAS, just as UEMOA is inside the ECOWAS. Within the region of Central Africa, ECCAS is expected to play major roles in democratisation and conflict management. However, the case of ECCAS, a body charged with conflict management and democratisation in the region, continues to be worrisome. Within the wider continent of Africa, Central Africa is regarded as one of the continent’s most fragile and vulnerable regions. It has earned the unenviable accolade as a region with vast records of many cases of coup d’état, crises and conflicts. These states are either in conflict with one another or with criminal gangs supported by various other parties with vested interests. “These criminal groups are often militarised and trans-nationalised by rival governments and used to commit atrocious crimes, such as drug trafficking, counterfeiting, arms dealing, and armed warfare to destabilise other governments.” It is doubtful how a region can hope to experience any real or sustainable development under these deplorable circumstances.

Of the 11 states currently constituting the region, only two are experiencing relative stability: these are Cameroon and Gabon. The remaining are engulfed in crises and conflicts. Thus, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC or DR Congo), Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda as well as São Tomé and Príncipe are constantly in one form of crisis or another. Even Cameroon, in recent times, has been experiencing serious upset from the Anglophone Crisis, otherwise referred to as Ambazonia war arising from political agitations in the country’s South West and North West. The types of conflicts in ECCAS come in forms of civil strife, civil wars, border issues, ethno-religious conflicts and genocides. Prominent among these were the conflicts in Burundi and Rwanda, for instance, which were ethno-religious in nature. What mattered after the senseless killings were not who was right, but who was left, as those affected had to live with the bitter consequences of avoidable killings. The 1994 genocide in

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Rwanda reportedly claimed about 800, 000 lives. Angola was no stranger to wars. The prolonged conflict in Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA opposition era remains a sad reminder of the damages war had done in Africa. Angola’s most recent turmoil followed the battle for control of its government by three ethnopolitical factions. Border challenges are yet to be fully and permanently resolved in Cameroon and Chad. The scars of a series of rebellions and attempts at ethno-religious cleansing involving the government of François Bozizé, the (Muslim) Séléka rebel coalition, and the (Christian) Anti-balaka militias in the Central African Republic remains prominent in ECCAS.

The mass atrocities, human rights violations, war crimes, ethno-religious clashes that followed the toppling of Bozizé were incalculable and made more complicated with the purported influx of fighters from Chad and Sudan into the CAR. Although, geopolitically, Sudan is not within Central Africa, there are many other overriding sentiments that brought Sudan into the fray. No real social or economic development is to be expected while all these conflicts continued within the ECCAS territories.

The creation of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) in 1994 as the successor to the Economic and Customs Union of Central Africa (UDEAC) was supposed to have engendered a deep sense of camaraderie among many of the warring countries. But the many national differences continue to stand in the way of regional integration as the ECCAS region remains prone to prolonged hostilities. Of contemporary relevance and existential threat is the Rwanda-DRC-Burundi-Uganda crisis, particularly that related to M23 armed bandits. The Central African Republic (CAR) has had a long and turbulent history of violent conflict and political instability. Since March 2013, when the Séléka rebel coalition seized power from former President Bozizé, the Central African Republic has been thrown into a spiral of bitter hostilities and conflicts of revenge killings as various armed groups and warlords took control of large tracts of land in the very presence of weakened and incapacitated armed forces, unable to protect the population and maintain order, as worsened local conflicts left communities increasingly vulnerable and powerless.

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The exclusion of young people from local and national peacebuilding processes, and personal experiences of violence and loss as well as limited access to sufficient economic, educational or social opportunities often combine to increase the likelihood of them joining armed groups. Various peace deals and reconciliation processes, including the attempts made in May 2015 and in February 2019, could be said to have been making progress after the government signed a peace accord with the leaders of 14 armed groups. But the disputed elections in December 2020 sparked fresh violence involving some of the signatories to the peace agreement.

The genocide of 1994 during the Rwandan civil war, within a period of about 100 days, was a period of gruesome murder of members of the Tutsi minority ethnic group, some moderate Hutu and Twa by armed Hutu militias. Like Rwanda, Burundi has also seen bitter, genocidal wars between Hutu and Tutsi. The civil war in Burundi, lasting from 1993 to 2005, and a result of longstanding ethnic divisions between the Hutu and the Tutsi ethnic groups, made Burundi the scene of one of Africa’s most intractable conflicts, the effects of  which still persists. The humanitarian situation in Burundi as at 2021 involved around 1.7 million people facing food insecurity as the country remained

one of the world’s poorest, with cases of human rights abuses, killings of opposition members and hounding of journalists

It is difficult to separate the crises in Central Africa from the types of political leadership, the prevalent sociology and economic realities. A region so impoverished is a region that is prone to social unrest, protests and violence. The skewed access to power and economic benefits is a huge spur to discontent, protests and agitations, some of which have been suppressed for years under dictatorial leadership. Of all the presidents and heads of state of the 11 countries that make up the ECCAS, only Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic and Sâo Tomé & Principe are having democratic or quasi-democratic governments. The rest may lay claim to a semblance of democracy, but  –  although they are not under military rule  –  are under civilian dictatorship and despotic leaders who have been in office for decades and seem detached from the people they govern, their pains, aspirations and predicaments. That is why they don’t seem to appreciate the predicaments of their citizens. Only recently, Paul Biya, the longest serving head of state presently alive, reportedly celebrated his fortieth anniversary as president of Cameroon.

Unmindful of the growing crisis in their domains and the need for full participatory governance, some leaders within ECCAS have turned their government leadership succession into dynasties. An example is Omar Bongo (born Albert-Bernard Bongo) of Gabon who died in 2009 and was succeeded by his son, Ali Bongo (born Alain Bernard Bongo), currently heading the country’s government. Another sample is Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, a Chadian army general currently serving as the transitional president of Chad. Mahanat is the son of the late Chadian President Idriss Déby who died in 2021 while commanding troops during an offensive against rebels in northern Chad. It remains to be seen how these dynasties and despotic leaders will pursue or execute people-friendly policies. They are more likely to be more preoccupied with self-preservation and the crushing of oppositions rather than the common good of their respective countries. So, clearly, they can be counted as part of the forces keeping their countries down and responsible for their countries’ backwardness. Paul Kagame who had assumed the leadership of Rwanda for more than 20 years has made a point of remaining in power till 2034, meaning that he is not ready for any real democratic rule now. Most of the countries in ECCAS have seen various degrees of internal rumpus, hostilities and wars or skirmishes across borders with their neighbouring countries. Since the last two months, there have been cases of brickbats, accusations of meddling and tacit support for armed invaders of neighbouring countries between DR Congo and Rwanda, leading to heightened tensions between both countries.

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Following the barrage of carnage and killings, the strengthening of ECCAS began with the formation of its peace and security architecture, notably, the Central African Early Warning Mechanism (MARAC) and the Central African Multinational Force (FOMAC). In particular, FOMAC was conceived as ECCAS’s multinational non-permanent standby force intended to accomplish peace, security and humanitarian relief missions. However, the FOMAC force of military, police and civilian contingents combined is embarrassingly too small, with only about 4,800 to 5,000 military personnel for a region with such enormous crises.

The region of Central Africa remains economically backward on the aggregate.  The economies of all of ECCAS countries depend largely on the extractive industries with limited or non-existent emphasis on global value chain development. This affects the volume and value of revenues accruing to individual countries. Many ECCAS countries are now increasingly becoming more popular for their fossil fuel deposits or those of renewable energy raw materials in abundance, creating new opportunities for wealth and national prosperity as well as grim prospects of violence and hostilities. But although there are lingering problems of cross-border ethnic and religious affinities, the countries in the region remain weakly connected economically. Sâo Tomé and Principe’s economy has historically been dependent on agriculture, and much of the total agricultural area of the two islands belongs to the state. Room for expansion and industrial production is limited by the existing land areas.


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