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Saturday, 2 February 2008

Undiplomatic Writing....

Ambassador Mbita Chitala has been sacked for his piece in the Tripoli Post titled The Federal Union of African States Must be Established Now. The official line of why he has been sacked, as articulated by President's Chief Press and Public Relations adviser:

"In the course of that article, Mr Chitala advocates ....policies which are contrary to those of Government and attacks the majority of African leaders for not adopting such policies and establishing a union government....[Mbita Chitala] argued that it was a lame excuse as some of them have arguments that they have to consult their people and there is need to integrate the regional economic communities....This article has caused untold embarrassment to His Excellency the President and the Government of Zambia and a Foreign minister of a country whose leader was described in very unkind words has intimated that he will send a note of protest to the Zambian Government"
In truth, Mbita Chitala really should have been sacked for his poor understanding of African issues. The central argument of his essay is that political integration should come before economic integration, but he fails to point out any historical precedent when political union, on the scale proposed, has worked without prior economic convergence.

17 comments:

  1. The central argument of his essay is that political integration should come before economic integration, but he fails to point out any historical precedent when political union, on the scale proposed, has been worked without economic convergence.

    Right, there should first be harmonisation of the economies, currencies, legislation, etc.

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  2. How can economic harmonisation be achieved when SADC and COMESA want to annihilate each other?
    Please read the column I wrote at the beginning of last year and I ran it again when Mwanawasa used parts of it in his speech against the speedy implementation of the US of Africa.
    The article is at http://gndhlovu.blogspot.com/2007/07/africa-is-not-ready-for-united-states.html.

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  3. The central argument of his essay is that political integration should come before economic integration, but he fails to point out any historical precedent when political union, on the scale proposed, has been worked without economic convergence.

    Here's the question: would have economic integration in the EU happened without political desire to do so ?

    Furthermore, the EU is the only precedent, period.

    It's a chicken and egg argument really. You can say "let's harmonize currencies, tarriffs and the whole thing" before we talk about a political union but then you should ask why we haven't done that already and the absence of a common political will is the only answer. On the other hand, on a continent were countries struggle to have some sort of political (and economical) unity WITHIN themselves, it's quite unclear what a continental federation would achieve.

    but yeah it's an old argument going back to the early 60's and the so-called Monrovia and Casablanca Groups. I guess because the Monrovia Group "won" back then, the other camp, calling for political union has been vindicated: the economic convergence has not happened.

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  4. Hi Gershom,

    I'm sure Africa is not ready for a EU type system, but the point is that it must be made ready for regional and even continent wide integration.

    That takes a lot of hard work, time and money to achieve. However, there should be economies of scale that would reap even greater benefits than the immediate costs, in the long term.

    Are you familiar with a small booklet published by the late great Cheikh Anta Diop, called "Black Africa - The economic and cultural basis for a federated state"?

    In it, he basically calls for the adoption of a single language, and sets out the economic and industrial possibilities of the various economic regions.

    This book was written over 30 years ago, but it is still interesting reading.

    You may disagree with any or most of it, but Cheikh Anta Diop was one of the guys who were always pushing the envelope of the consensus of his day.

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  5. Gershom,

    In response to the situation in Sudan. Not too long ago, Germany, the UK, France, Italy were bitter enemies. Economic unification even erased the Iron Curtain, and made The Troubles in Northern Ireland a footnote of history. If they can get together, so can the various peoples of Africa.

    Random African,

    Furthermore, the EU is the only precedent, period.

    I agree that the EU is the most completed example of politican and economic unification. But let's also remember that the European Union was preceded by the European Economic Community, which did a lot of the hard work.

    And in North America, there is NAFTA, which seeks economic unification of Canada, the USA and Mexico.

    So perhaps supporting COMESA and SADC in getting together would be the next step forward.

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  6. Random African,

    We do have precedents of FAILED political unions BEFORE economic union e.g. the Soviet Union.

    I do accept that economic union requires some element of political will, but that should not be equated to Mbita's assertion that political union MUST come before economic union.

    No I do not think it is a chicken and egg....ultimately the economics drive stable political unions....at any levels of geographic organisations. In the long term economic imperatives are more resilient than culture and other considerations, before the basic human instinct is survival...

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  7. Cheikh Anta Diop's booklet is great. A bit heavy on central planning and marxist plans for me but still inspiring.

    MrK,

    When I say EU, it mean ECC+EU, just like OAU and African Union are the same org, really.

    NAFTA, Mercosur really don't count. They're basically free trade areas. And we have those in Africa: ECOWAS, the two CFA zones, SADC, COMESA all at various levels of economic integration.

    Cho,

    the USSR ? Are you serious ?
    Even today, Russia is probably the biggest trading partner of each of the former republics. And I don't remember internal trade barriers or different currencies in the USSR.
    Furthermore, the USSR doesn't qualify at all: it wasn't a voluntary union of independant or sovereign states. USSR is pre-1917 Russia + a few territories, period.
    Unless you're talking about the COMECON but the COMECON was an economic union, at least in theory. The political convergence wasn't official.

    Seriously, the example you're thinking about is the United Arab Republic (Egypt+Syria+Iraq) or the first Federation of Mali or the United Central Provinces of America or Greater Colombia. But even in all those examples, it is easy to argue that political disagreements led to their failure.

    ultimately the economics drive stable political unions....at any levels of geographic organisations. In the long term economic imperatives are more resilient than culture and other considerations, before the basic human instinct is survival...

    Yes but the economics have to exist first. I mean nowadays the french and german economies are so integrated and codependant that nobody would think about raising tarriffs and raising tarriffs would be illegal anyway. But was that the case 50 years ago ?
    In Africa, it's even worse because the barreers are not only legal (and honestly legal barreers are bypassed daily anyway) but physical. It's easy to lower tarrifs and talk about unity but if there's no road to transport the goods, there won't be any trade. And you'd be surprised by how many of those countries have opposed integration attempts because of protectionist issues (i'll post about one later on my blog).

    I'm not saying that establishing a political union would all of a sudden resolve all the problems. But you won't get any economical integration unless all the parties decide to give up at least part of their sovereignity to a superior political entity (which could be a council of the head of states, really).

    Another aspect of European integration few think about is the massive transfers that softened the transition. Countries with weak economies felt less nervous about competition because their industries/agriculture was modernized with the rich countries' money.

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  8. Random African,

    Cheikh Anta Diop's booklet is great. A bit heavy on central planning and marxist plans for me but still inspiring.

    Well he was a marxist, after all, and the book was written over 30 years ago. :)

    However, his type of vision for the integration of Africa's economic regions is missing from the debate, even today. Even back then, he was looking at the kinds of synergies between economic regions that can be created if there is the political will and vision to do so. Creating synergies between for instance Copper Belt Province/Shaba/Katanga Province with it's industrial metals, and harbors like in Angola, Namibia and Tanzania could benefit the entire region.

    In Africa, it's even worse because the barreers are not only legal (and honestly legal barreers are bypassed daily anyway) but physical. It's easy to lower tarrifs and talk about unity but if there's no road to transport the goods, there won't be any trade.

    And that is why laying the economic foundations first is so important. If there are major economic differences between countries, it will only lead to mass migration, and all the problems that go with that. It is not merely a matter of declarations, as ambassador Chitala seemed to indicate.

    It is also about the harmonisation of taxation, interest rates and inflation, legislation. And maybe, as Diop would have it, even languages. At least the official ones.

    Another aspect of European integration few think about is the massive transfers that softened the transition.

    Which is one of several reasons that Ireland did so well - which is not to undermine their achievements at all. However, it shows what can be done if the issue of lack of funds is taken out of the equation.

    Zambia can make a lot more funds available, if it starts to track it's public funds and public projects closely. This is apparent in the road and infrastructure sector, but also in the central government departments and local government.

    Doing that would be a major step forward. It would be a first step in the decentralisation of goverment to a local level, which would massively increase the availability of services.

    If half of national revenues were spent directly at the local government level and local government was held financially and democratically accountable, it would transform society and the economy. It would also be a model for all of Africa to follow.

    If that was done, if that model was adopted throughout Africa, it would almost make unification a mere formality.

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  9. And that is why laying the economic foundations first is so important. If there are major economic differences between countries, it will only lead to mass migration, and all the problems that go with that. It is not merely a matter of declarations, as ambassador Chitala seemed to indicate.

    It is also about the harmonisation of taxation, interest rates and inflation, legislation. And maybe, as Diop would have it, even languages. At least the official ones.


    Without a proper infrastructure, it's all irrelevant. My country Congo-Brazzaville for instance is part of monetary union with Gabon, same currency, same interest rates, fiscal harmonization, same language, our presidents are related, yet there is more trade with Angola and Congo-Kinshasa because there is a transport infrastructure linking to those countries.

    And to an extend, building transcontinental transport infrastructure won't be done unless the states all give up on at least part of their sovereign interests to a coordinating federal structure.

    If half of national revenues were spent directly at the local government level and local government was held financially and democratically accountable, it would transform society and the economy. It would also be a model for all of Africa to follow.

    The Nigerian model ? Really ?
    I mean if the biggest country in Africa does it and nobody follows, you may think about wondering why.
    Well I'll tell you why: other countries don't want to have endless debates about the redistribution formula (i remember asking you about it and you never answered) and other countries think economies of scale and coordination issues makes central decisions more efficient. Looking at Nigeria, they may have a point.


    So yeah, you guys talk about laying the economic basis first but never say HOW that is supposed to be done. How nation-states are supposed to somehow value further integration more than their own self-interest.
    I mean, do you guys really think the EU wasn't a political project first and foremost ?

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  10. Without a proper infrastructure, it's all irrelevant.

    Infrastructure is extremely important - which is why the hundreds of millions from the mining industry are going to be crucial.

    The Nigerian model ? Really ?

    It is? I'll have a second look at that. However, note that in the model I have proposed, there is a double check on the process from above and below - financial transparancy through auditing by an independent state agency, and democratic accountability through regular local government elections and participatory budgeting.

    But I'll look into the Nigerian example.

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  11. It is? I'll have a second look at that. However, note that in the model I have proposed, there is a double check on the process from above and below - financial transparancy through auditing by an independent state agency, and democratic accountability through regular local government elections and participatory budgeting.

    That's nice but you still aren't aswering my question about the formula.
    In Nigeria, there are constant disputes between federal, state and local governments about who should get how much. Equal distribution or proportional to the population is viewed as unfair by states with stronger economies. Distribution proportional to economic importance is viewed as an injustice by poorer states, after all, they need more.

    How Zambia, a country which has serious imbalances between the Copperbelt and the rest of the country is gonna deal with that in your plan ?

    Infrastructure is extremely important - which is why the hundreds of millions from the mining industry are going to be crucial.

    And you think they gonna be spend into integrating Katanga and the Copperbelt or something ? Making it energy sufficient ? Build common transport hubs ? Really ?

    It's all gonna go to Kinshasa and Lusaka and even more plans will be made to prevent any transborder integration.

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  12. Random African,

    ”Even today, Russia is probably the biggest trading partner of each of the former republics. And I don't remember internal trade barriers or different currencies in the USSR.”

    I think the problem might be differences in what we mean by economic convergence. When I refer to economic convergence, I mean more than removal of trade barriers or use of common currencies. I am referring to structural realignment e.g. similar economic cycles, low income inequality across regions, deeper financial integration and so forth. Many nations have no internal economic convergence between regions or provinces, although they exist as national states. Where economic convergence is deeper, diverse national states are likely to be more resilient to political or ideological fractures.

    The other issue of course is “size”. The larger and diverse political unions are the more important economic convergence becomes. On the other hand, the more challenging economic converge is. The lesson from Russia is very much that long term stability hinges on much deeper economic converge especially for larger federations. If Africa was less diverse, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, because the economic convergence may well be easier to attain. But we have 53 states, with different economic cycles, and facing different economic constraints, no political union would work without first bringing them closer economically. This is what Mbita Chitala has missed.

    ”But you won't get any economical integration unless all the parties decide to give up at least part of their sovereignity to a superior political entity (which could be a council of the head of states, really).”

    I think you mean “deeper” economic integration, rather than economic integration. The point is that African economics are already integrated to some extent. What we are really talking about is what level of “deeper” integration is necessary to get there. By the way, I am not even a proponent of deeper integration. I don’t favour deeper regional convergence based on COMESA or SADC….i prefer to enhance free trade within the commonwealth and other more diverse nations. See the blog What the Post Editor forgot to mention.... for further discussion.

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  13. But we have 53 states, with different economic cycles, and facing different economic constraints, no political union would work without first bringing them closer economically. This is what Mbita Chitala has missed.

    i know what he and all the idealist panafricanists miss but what I'm asking is: is a structural realignment (yes similar economic cycles, low income inequality across regions, deeper financial integration and so forth) possible without at least some suprastructure limiting national policies.

    I still don't think that USSR's break-up was driven by a lack of economical integration/convergence. The issue were in a lot of ways political and ethnic, with either local elites fighting for a piece of the cake or (not necessarely economically) oppressed ethnic groups grabbing the opportunity to get away from russian rule. And while it's hard to imagine, the continued existence of a strong economy-based pro-russian sentiment among the populations is sort of proof that something was working right.

    And as far as the 53 countries having different business cycles, facing different economic constrains, how much of it is the result of the past 50 years of mercantilist calculus made by those nation-states ?
    How much internal convergence would the US economy experience had the 50 states been independent, or had the Confederacy won the war ?

    While I hear you about deep regional integration and the fact that there will be loosers (but then again, there are loosers in nation-states), i'm not quite sure your comparative advantage argument holds. Wouldn't diminishing returns and rises in labour costs eventually lead to a diversification of Zambia's economy (similar to say, the late industrialization of american southern states) ? Or on the other hands, wouldn't the imbalance be compensated by migrant flows ?

    I guess the other part of my argument is the geographical issue: no matter how low tarrifs are, how liberalized the investment law is, Zambia and other landlocked countries would have a hard time becoming the next Hong-Kong or the next Singapore by themselves. Further integration in the global economy could and would be limited by non-cooperative neighbourgs at least for goods. And unless air transport gets cheap or Zambia goes straight to a service-based economy, you'll have to integrated deeper with SA, Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania (which could be done through increased competition but i can't see african nation-states not messing with that)

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  14. That's nice but you still aren't aswering my question about the formula. In Nigeria, there are constant disputes between federal, state and local governments about who should get how much. Equal distribution or proportional to the population is viewed as unfair by states with stronger economies. Distribution proportional to economic importance is viewed as an injustice by poorer states, after all, they need more.

    That is the point of redistributing wealth. However, even for the wealthier states or regions, there are payoffs. Social stability, economic prosperity, the absence of conflict, nationwide markets and infrastructure.

    I would divide the country into 350 local councils, with about 30,000 people each.

    Check out my manifesto here:

    http://maravi.blogspot.com/2007/06/my-manifesto-for-economic.html

    It's all gonna go to Kinshasa and Lusaka and even more plans will be made to prevent any transborder integration.

    Two things - one, you don't know that and two, there is already too much public pressure. There is pressure for projects to be finished on time, there is pressure for investment in infrastructure.

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  15. Cho,

    i know what he and all the idealist panafricanists miss but what I'm asking is: is a structural realignment (yes similar economic cycles, low income inequality across regions, deeper financial integration and so forth) possible without at least some suprastructure limiting national policies.

    We all have our ideologies, but 'idealist panafricanist' isn't mine. Nor am I a fan of supply side economics.

    Africa was less diverse, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, because the economic convergence may well be easier to attain. But we have 53 states, with different economic cycles, and facing different economic constraints, no political union would work without first bringing them closer economically.

    Not only are there 53 states, but there are many ethnicities and tribes within those states. Which is why the kind of easy migration you see within the United States would be extremely destabilising in Africa, or for that matter Europe and Asia.

    Therefore, I think the way forward is to develop and fund local government. Once that is done, basic services will be available to everyone where they live, making migration less desired and making it is much easier to have convergence between nation states.

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  16. Random African,

    is a structural realignment (yes similar economic cycles, low income inequality across regions, deeper financial integration and so forth) possible without at least some suprastructure limiting national policies.

    I don't deny the need for "some suprastructure", what I deny is that it necessary to give away some sovereignity in order to move towards convergence that is "mutually beneficial". Of course their benefits that can only be extracted with deeper convergence, but to argue that all convergence necessitates giving up sovereignity is wrong.

    "I still don't think that USSR's break-up was driven by a lack of economical integration/convergence. The issue were in a lot of ways political and ethnic, with either local elites fighting for a piece of the cake or (not necessarely economically) oppressed ethnic groups grabbing the opportunity to get away from russian rule."

    We can debate history all day, but my point is that economic convergency makes it easier for political unions to exist. I am not disputing that political unions are formed for different reasons, or indeed that culture and other things cannot make them work, I am simply saying that multi-ethnic or multi-national unions without economic convergence are likely to be unstable.

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  17. Advantage of further economic integration - ability to move and find jobs in still thriving areas when others are in recession:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/13/AR2009081303866.html?hpid=artslot

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