Integration is an important engine for economic growth, sustainable development and improving the living standards of the African people. It is also recognised as one of the key factors underlying the success of the fastest growing economies in Africa.
It is against this background that the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), College of Social Sciences through its fifth Voice of Social Sciences Annual International Conference came up with the topic on how economic cooperation and regional integration can be fostered in Africa.
The conference with the theme, “Regional Integration in Contemporary Africa” brought together scholars and researchers from different countries to discuss and deliberated on the matter for a better future for the African continent.
Opening the meeting, the Deputy Vice Chancellor- Research and Knowledge Exchange at the UDSM, Professor Samuel Maghimbi (Department of Sociology and Anthropology) said that the meeting was vital since Africa needs to integrate in order to create larger, more viable internal economic spaces to permit efficient functioning of markets.
Prof Maghimbi told the gathering that economically, bigger markets permit better exploitation of economies of scale, while factor mobility across borders and the harmonisation of monetary and fiscal policies facilitate faster economic growth and greater welfare for participating countries.
“Economically, it clearly demonstrates that regional integration is a requisite for political stability and sustainable economic development,” he said.
He added that there is enough evidence on the ground to support Africa’s sustained efforts in implementing its regional integration agenda.
“It is in this context that African Union Heads of State and Government continue to pursue regional integration as an overarching continental development strategy.”
The scholars said that despite being featured in many African development initiatives over the years, the pace of implementation of the regional integration agenda has not always matched the high ambitions and ideological commitment.
Many African countries are still faced with several difficulties in implementing the regional integration agenda.
More specifically, the weak productive capabilities, lack of technological sophistication, lack of industrial capacity for diversified manufactured goods, inadequate infrastructure, as well as weak institutional capacities.
Other constraints include issues related to inadequate financial and human resources along with difficulties concerning harmonisation of regional programmes into national policy frameworks.
Regionalism has also been driven by public sector organisations and thus lacked the support and involvement of the private sector and the general public.
Basing on the challenges, Prof Maghimbi urged the meeting to discuss how Africa reconciles the sometimes-conflicting interests of countries with diverse sizes, natural resources and economic performance; how to involve civil associations, business groups, professionals and other sectors of society more actively in all integration endeavours.
“You should also base on how Africa can achieve an appropriate balance between public and private economic initiatives as well as how we can pursue the pace of integration that is simultaneously ambitious and realistic,” he urged.
Earlier, the Principal of the College of Social Sciences, Prof Alexander Makulilo- Department of Political Science and Public Administration said that African countries remained largely internally unintegrated in the post-colonial period.
“African countries have very small markets; in 2012 more than 60 percent of the African countries had less than 15 million people,” he said, adding that apart from the often-cited problems related to corruption, instability, undemocratic rule and civil unrest, there is also a lack of private sector activity in regional integration schemes.
He said that the conference was aimed at shedding light on such issues and bring about the expected deliberations through sharing knowledge and experiences regarding regional integration in Africa.
“The deliberations of this conference will contribute to promote trade, science and technological exchange, peace and political stability, environment and natural resource governance and Socio-cultural transformation in Africa,” he noted.
Prof Makulilo said that the combined outputs from the gathering of experts, constitute a solid collection of input to the ongoing African government’s efforts to foster sustained integration, socio-economic development, political stability and peace in contemporary Africa.
He said that African countries have embraced regional integration as an important component of their development strategies, primarily driven by the economic rationale of overcoming the constraint of small and fractioned economies working in isolation.
According to him, several pan-African organisations have successively been working towards deepening economic, social and political cooperation and integration in Africa.
According to the scholars, African leaders have taken some important decisions along the way including the AU in 2006 on rationalisation of the Regional Economic Communities with the main objective being to strengthen coordination and harmonisation of RECs’ policies among themselves, with a view to accelerating Africa’s integration process.
Building on the need to optimise the regional integration benefits, in January 2012 the African Union made a landmark decision to fast-track the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
In March, this year, forty-four of the fifty-five members of the African Union signed this proposed agreement in Kigali Rwanda to implement a comprehensive action plan for Boosting Intra-African Trade.