WINDHOEK: The African Union (AU) has over the past 10 years not done well with regards to trade on the continent as intra-African trade currently stands at a mere 13 per cent.
This was stated by political columnist Alfredo Hengari, who was speaking at a panel discussion on the topic ‘AU at Ten: Progress or Status Quo’ held at the Goethe Centre here on Thursday.
Statistics show that Africa’s share of global trade stands at only three per cent, while intra-Africa trade stands at around 13 per cent, compared to Europe’s intra-trade that is at 60 to 70 per cent.
The discussion was organised by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in partnership with the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA).
Speakers included William Lindeke, a research associate on the democracy and governance programme in the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), who spoke on the history of the Organisation of the African Union (OAU), as well as former Namibian Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), Dr Kaire Mbuende who touched on the transition of the OAU into the AU.
“When you look at where Africa was in 2002 and you look at where Africa is today, it appears as if a number of positive developments have taken place,” Hengari said.
He however went on to say that one of the key mandates of the AU is to integrate Africa economically, but said the AU has not really done well with regards to trade integration.
Hengari pointed out that when you look at the AU over the past 10 years, the quantitative aspect of the institution is quite positive.
“We have seen the creation of good institutions such as the Pan African Parliament, the African Court of Human Rights, as well as institutions such as the (Peace and) Security Council,” he indicated, before stating that all these institutions speak quite well of the idea of a union as it is the highest stage in integration.
“Thus, according to the quantitative theory, the AU has done quite well. However, when you look at the qualitative part, what have we achieved with these institutions over the past 10 years?” Hengari asked.
He went on to say that the qualitative aspect is a “mixed bag” as the AU has seen some notable successes, but at the same time, has also seen spectacular failures.
Hengari mentioned some of the successes as being the fact that the AU has been able to deploy peacekeeping operations in a number of African countries such as Burundi in 2003 and also jointly with the United Nations (UN) deployed peacekeeping operations in Darfur.
“In 2001 for instance, about 30 per cent of the UN peacekeeping operations budget was dedicated to Africa. The last I checked about two weeks ago, that percentage increased to 40 per cent,” he noted.
Hengari also stated that the security situation in Africa has been improving as the AU, through its insistence on norms and values, has had a positive impact in that direction.
“Now the challenge going forward is how Africa through the AU should move much faster in terms of its agenda on intra-African trade,” he said.
Echoing similar sentiments, Mbuende said notwithstanding all the positive things that have happened in politics, the AU still spends more time on political issues than on economical issues.
Mbuende said trade amongst African countries is very low as the continent is geared towards the export of raw materials and other commodities to developing countries because of a lack of diversification of its economies.
“If you look at the agenda of the AU, most of the issues would be of economical nature, but they would spend more time on political issues and the economical issues would not enjoy the kind of concentration it deserves,” he said.
Mbuende further said the greatest challenge for the AU is to focus more on economic issues than on political issues.
He called on the AU to follow the example of countries like Madagascar, which he said focuses more on economic development and integration.