Tana Forum-European Union collaboration on regional integration dialogue
July 9, 2019

The 8th Tana Forum, held on 3-4 May 2019, focused on the theme ‘Political Dynamics in the Horn of Africa: Nurturing the Emerging Peace Trends’. National and regional stability in the Horn of Africa serve as vital components of the sustainable development objectives across the region. Faced with myriad challenges relating to weak governance and state institutions, porous and contested national boundaries, slowing economic growth and an increasingly tense scramble for resources by major powers, the political and security fault-lines in the Horn of Africa have become both a barrier to nation-building, as well as a source of acute security apprehensions. These issues are also affecting political trajectories in the region and dimming the prospects for robust regional integration.

It is against this backdrop that the Tana Forum Secretariat and EU hosted a joint side event on the topic “How Economic Integration Affects a Continent’s Security: Lessons from the EU and AU” along the margins of the 8th Tana Forum. Accounting for the wide spectrum of high-level target participants that convenes yearly at the Tana Forum, the EU collaborated with the Forum Secretariat to organize a side event to exchange and engage on this specific topic and other related themes, in order to draw out practical experiences and recommendations for ways forward.

The main objective of the side event was to draw attention to the current regional integration agenda in Africa, deepen policymakers’ understanding in this area, and encourage them to implement agreed-upon policies in their respective country or region (“from policy to practice”).

At least 60 participants comprising attendees from the AU, international organizations, diplomatic community, civil society, and youth representatives participated in the discussion, which took place on Friday, 3 May on the eve of the 8th Tana Forum. Set up alongside the banks of Lake Tana, the relaxed and spacious venue allowed for all participants to easily access the event.

Moderated by Professor Emeritus Mohamed Salih of the Institute of Social Studies in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the discussion featured the following discussants:

  • H.E. John Dramani Mahama, Former President of the Republic of Ghana and Chairperson of the Tana Forum Board
  • Amb. Ranieri Sabatucci, European Union Head of Delegation to the African Union
  • H.E. Albert Muchanga, Commissioner for Trade and Industry, African Union Commission
  • Mr. Carl Michiels, Director, European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), The Netherlands
  • Ms. Aya Chebbi, Youth Envoy, African Union Commission
  • Mr. Brian Kagoro, Executive Director, Uhai Africa Private Limited

The following were some of the highlights from the discussions:

  • The peace that prevails in Europe following WWII is the result of economic integration. The objective behind the creation of the EU was peace and security, not solely economic integration. Economic integration came about because of the prevailing peace and security in the region. On the other hand, the African Union is focusing on economic integration while moving towards peace and security.
  • The opening up and solidarity between neighbouring states are the two main ingredients for successful economic integration. They added that integration needs open borders and the freedom of neighbours to interact more frequently.
  • Economic integration is a zero-sum game where some countries always gain more than others as country contexts are different. Therefore, solidarity is vital for enabling the openness that is beneficial for all of the participants of integration.
  • Economic integration is a political process. Connecting people through trade creates a mutual understanding leading to increased trust between people. This interdependence means states risk losing more with going to war, than keeping the status quo. Also, each African country has something unique to offer to other states that could help ease up momentum towards integration.
  • The AUC Trade and Industry Representative informed participants that the African Union Summit in July 2019 will launch the operation of the free trade area on the African continent. He further informed that enough countries have ratified the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) designed to boost intra-African trade and pave the way for the future establishment of a continental customs union to put it into force.
  • Even if there are procedures in place, it does not always mean that they function. Regional actors are more likely to intervene, because they are more exposed to the conflict and have a higher risk of being affected;
  • National interests change over time, so do the roles of regional powers and interest groups (CSOs/INGOs/NGOs);
  • Economic integration needs to take into account the role of critical junctures, such as natural disasters, that happen from time to time on the continent. These disasters could have adverse effects on both political and economic environments, thereby making regional integration more complex and challenging;
  • The role of hegemons such as Nigeria and South Africa. A question was raised if the two big powers would work together and fulfil their perceived roles as catalysts for regional and continental integration.
  • Women are the drivers of economies; they are the ones producing on the African continent. In addition, the negative dialogue on African youth has to be changed because they play an important role in the economic integration movement. The youth should also be united around a collective identity that redefines Pan-Africanism.
  • Africa should find its own path of integration and not imitate the path of others. It has its own unique geographical, geopolitical and economic conditions, which it has to contend with and build upon. There is also demographic dislocation; there is a narrative that young people do not trade. There should be inclusive discussions of regional value chains to ensure that nationals of Member States feel they profit or will profit from trade brought about by economic integration.
  • Participants posed the question – what is inclusive prosperity? They further pointed out that there is need for a common market of skills, and freedom of movement, which are critical components of inclusive prosperity and regional integration.
  • Participants also called on Member States to adopt a multi-stakeholder consultative approach that will benefit all citizens as the most effective way to promote and ensure achievement of economic integration on the continent.
Key Recommendations
  • Participants acknowledged the existence of legal economic integration frameworks. However, they should be amended to take into cognizance changing contexts and needs of African Member States;
  • More effort should be undertaken to account for the harmonization of standards, development of guidelines and frameworks and facilitation of economic integration drivers;
  • The European Union can support the integration efforts of the African Union through experience and technical expertise sharing;
  • As a follow up to the side event, participants made several suggestions to be taken in near future, such as establishing a common shared understanding and knowledge of measures undertaken by African and European Unions to promote economic integration on the continent.

Click here to view photos from the event.