Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What are the challenges to African Regional Integration?

From issues of governance to providing for its citizens, the region of Africa has seen many challenges.  As a result of these challenges, the International Community (US, EU, IMF and World Bank) has encouraged Africa to move down a particular trajectory.

This trajectory involves, among other things, trade liberalisation and developing an African wide regional trading bloc so that trade between countries in this continent could be increased. As Marcike Meyan argues, ‘regional integration would enable individual countries to do business and to increase attractiveness of their markets by, for example, achieving greater economies of scale or by collaborating on infrastructure projects’ (2008, 518). Inter-country infrastructure is one of the big challenges that Africa faces.

For example, transport links between countries in the region is not as good as it should be and this not only limits the trade between countries but also makes it more difficult for land locked countries to transport their goods to ports to be shipped to other parts of the globe.      
Another problem that the region of Africa faces is the diversity of cultures, background and languages. As Meyan points out ‘it is very difficult to imagine how this “spaghetti bowel” of different sub-regional commitments could be knotted into two regional integrated groupings comprising all of Southern and East African countries’ (2008, 525). It would be incorrect to presume that the countries in the continent as big as Africa would automatically be able to integrate, especially if there is not the political will to undertake such as a difficult process.
However, while Colonisation did not encourage regional integration, Richard Gibbs argues that, ‘colonisation created an extremely fragmented state system which, combined with economic and political marginality, has encouraged the formation of a large number of intra-state organisations and institutions’ (2009, 703).  The involvement of multiple imperial powers in the past failed to provide a solid foundation on which African Governments could build an effective region that benefited its people.    

This leads to another challenge that Africa faces. As the guest lecture pointed out was the lack of political will to sacrifice the national interest for the common good. As Gibbs states, ‘perhaps why regionalism was so notably unsuccessful in southern Africa is not because the states are weak but, on the country, because the sates governing those states may not want regionalism to succeed’ (2009, 719). There is also the failure of governments to sign regional treaties and amend domestic legislation.

The problems that face Africa are many and varied but with generational change, it is hoped that the region will see an improved standard of living.

List of References 

Richard Gibb. 2009. “Regional Integration and Africa's Development Trajectory: meta-theories, expectations and reality,” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 4, pp. 701-721.

M. Mareike. 2008 “Economic Partnership Agreements: A Historic Step towards a Partnership of Equals?”, Development Policy Review, Vol. 26, No.5, pp. 515-528, September 2008.

Can we reconcile regionalism with multilateralism?

With the end of my Comparative Regionalism unit in sight it is time to consider the future of regionalism and how compatible is it with pervious projects such as multilateralism.

As Griffith and O’Callaghan point out, ‘some observers worry that the multilateral system may be fracturing into discriminatory regional blocs. Others are hopeful that regional agreements will instead become building-blocs for further trade liberalization’ (2003. P. 275).  In my opinion, regionalism can be reconciled with multilateralism and that because of the complexity of the world trading system (in that there are vast differences in the development of national economies) the world has yet to reached a point of complete non-discriminatory trade as well as reciprocity and therefore regional trade agreements are good strategy to work towards trade liberalisation.

I would like to argue that multilateralism may be the ultimate aim and destination, the international economic community is still yet to reach this target. In this light, regional trade agreements can be a stepping stone towards the goal of multilateralism  

The reason for this is that the Developing Countries find it difficult to reconcile the trade liberalization strategies and their need to develop and establish their economies. As Brigid Gavin argues, Developing countries are increasingly concerned about how to achieve coherence between development and multilateralism…..….But their regionalism is part of a multilevel strategy which needs to be synchronized with their national development plans as well as their efforts to achieve development friendly trade rules in the World Trade Organisation’ (2007.p.59). On the one hand national governments want to abide by World Trade Organisation rules to decrease trade barriers and to adhere to labour, intellectual property and environmental rules but on the other hand, they are aware that they need to grow and strengthen their own national industries.

Gavin continues to argue that ‘Developing countries are increasingly turning to regionalism as a strategy for development.’ (2007. P.57). I presume that, when you are a developing or newly industrial nation, it is easier to trade with the countries nearest to you than with those who are further away as the transport costs are less and cultural and business differences would be less marked.  

Also, another reason why developing countries find regionalism so appealing is that Regional Trade Agreements are a good first step towards multilateralism as well as it is easier to develop trade links as a regional bloc (the saying ‘safety in numbers’ rings true here) with other nations and regions.  

In conclusion, regionalism can be reconciled with multilateralism as they both aim to reduce barriers to trade and increase trade liberalisation, it is just that regionalism is a good tool that could used to achieve this.   

List of References

Brigid Gavin. 2007. “Reconciling Regionalism and Multilateralism: Towards Multilevel Trade Governance,” in Philippe De Lombaerde (ed). Multilateralism, Regionalism and Bilateralism in Trade and Investment. 2006 World Report on Regional Integration Springer, 59-72.

Griffith, M and O’Callaghan, T. International Relations: Key Concepts (Routledge: New York, 2003)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Too many books, not enough time

Having to work full-time and study at uni on a part-time basis, I don't really get much time to read for pleasure but these are a few that I have managed to get through.

God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy) I don’t know what to make of this book. While it was amazingly written (although it does get a little poetic at times) its story seems quite unsatisfying.

On a few occasions I felt like the story was going somewhere but seem to stop before it got interesting. For example, the reunion of the twins as Adults and why the brother became a selective mute. But it is an amazing written story of forbidden love and disappointment through the generations.

Life of Pi (Yann Martel) is such a strange little story but so beautifully written. It is a story of an Indian Teenager that grows up in a zoo and while migrating to Canada gets shipwrecked and ends up on a boat with a bunch of random animals, including a Tiger called Richard Parker. While it had the potential to lose my interest, Yann Martel’s descriptive writing kept me reading right up to the last page and continued to offer up the unexpected. It is a completely unbelievable story that only question's its believability right at the end, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. I loved the character’s discussion of wild animals and how they confined by the natural hierarchy which means that they are never truly free.

Jasper Jones (Craig Silvery) after getting over my cultural cringe I couldn’t put down this amazing story about a small town in country Western Australia. This collective loss of innocence of this small town provides an unexpected story that has you turning the pages wondering what happens next and will come back to you as you go through your day.

Another Australian story that I kinda enjoyed was Joan London’s The Good Parents and while it revolves around a girl’s (Maya) disappearance from Australia’s cultural capital of Melbourne, a lot of the story is based in Perth and WA. This story has more to do with the lives of Maya’s family than her actual disappearance which I found a little disappointing since I wanted to know more about why felt the need to do that to her family. But having said that, the stories of her parents were cool and had me wanting to know what happened and one question I had, why does Perth seem more exciting in books than in real life??

Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol is his latest installment and one that is super easy to read which makes it ideal for reading as relief from the heavy uni books. In many ways it is very predictable and similar to the other books that Brown has written. As per usual the book’s main protagonist Robert Langdon, gets a random phone call at a strange hour which sends him off on a strange, strange journey that includes a mad man, signs/symbols, cutting edge science that no one gets and (of course) some hot girl. It is a good read all the same.

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