Magazine article New African

Can AUC Chair Faki Mahamat Deliver as Africa Faces Economic Cliff?

Magazine article New African

Can AUC Chair Faki Mahamat Deliver as Africa Faces Economic Cliff?

Article excerpt

The new Chair of the African Union Commission, Chadian Moussa Faki Mahamat (pictured, right) faces a set of urgent pan-African challenges. As the momentum of Africa's growth slows, it is essential that regional integration policies are now rigorously implemented. Can Faki Mahamat deliver? Analysis by Joel Ng and Densua Mumford*

The optimism of African growth at the start of the millennium has been tempered by a global economy racked by falling commodity prices and China's slow growth, exposing the difficult dependencies African economies still face, whether sectorally or in trade partnerships.

Africa's best chance of decoupling itself from these dependencies will come from economic regional integration, expanding its markets to allow it to compete more forcefully in the global economy. However, regional development plans have often been peripheral and lacking urgency or commitment. This should be the new African Union Commission chairperson's key priority: bolstering the economic parts of the AU's ambitious Agenda 2063. Agenda 2063 is not the first attempt at a comprehensive development plan for Africa. What it has in common with its predecessors, however, is a battle to keep economics at the top of member states' agendas.

Regional integration was itself a 'development plan', devised in collaboration with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in the 1950s, and it remains at the core of every major attempt to raise the continent's economic Standards.

Although some leaders, such as Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, pushed for political union, it was really the economic argument that made the most sense: regional integration, the lowering of economic barriers in order to create larger coherent markets, would attract investment and create economies of scale. It is this thinking that launched regional economic communities (RECs) like the East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Preferential Trade Area (PTA).

However, as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) prioritised decolonisation efforts, it tailed to take the economic mandate seriously. Decolonisation was an emancipatory call to arms; economic integration, on the other hand, was an invitation to painstaking, technocratic policymaking.

It was in response to this that the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA, 1980) was drafted. Borne out of the economic crisis of the 1970s, it advocated for the creation of an African Economic Community (AEC, signed in 1991) by the year 2000, which would stimulate the economies of the member states.

The LPA fostered a more inclusive understanding of development and centralised issues, such as the environment, women and gender in development, and industrialisation, but the underlying engine was economic.

By the end of the 1980s, African economies were struggling. Structural adjustment had been imposed by donors, requiring them to restructure their economies primarily towards the West, while leaving no resources for regional integration or common economic policies. With every single country failing to meet its targets, UNECA attempted to refocus on the 'structural transformation' of African economies and societies. 'Transformation' emerged in opposition to the insistence on 'adjustment' by the World Bank and IMF.

Hence, the African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programmes (AAFSAP) was born. It was UNECA's most sophisticated attempt to formulate an African strategy for development, and it synthesised many older ideas of self-reliance with newer ideas of participatory democracy to create a bottom-up understanding of economic development.

The AU transition and Agenda 2063

In 1999, the OAU dramatically decided to reform into the African Union (AU) to merge the economic and political mandates that were represented separately by the AEC and OAU. The OAU's ineffectual mechanisms were replaced by a more streamlined and progressive African Union. …

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