By Florence Gichoya
The inaugural Africa’s Regional Integration Index, ranked East Africa Community (EAC) as the top regional body in Africa. The report was compiled by African Development Bank (AfDB), African Union Commission (AUC) and Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and was released on April 2 2016, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The Index, showed the progress and impact of regional integration in the continent. It looked at 28 indicators among them regional infrastructure, trade integration, productive integration, free movement of people and goods, and financial integration.
Africa has 8 regional intergovernmental organizations under the African Union. East Africa Community (EAC), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), Southern African Development Community (SADC), and Arab Maghreb Union (UMA).
Overall, EAC was ranked the most integrated region, followed by SADC and ECOWAS came third. CEN-SAD was ranked the least integrated region. IGAD, which Kenya is a member, was ranked the best performer in the area of infrastructure.
Free movement across borders
On January 1 2014, the tripartite partnership of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda launched the use of national identity cards to travel across the three countries. “Time has come for us to remove colonial boundary barriers that have kept us apart and also isolated the people from interacting and doing business freely.” President Uhuru Kenyatta said.
The initiative’s aim was to encourage more integration, free movement of goods and services in the region that would boost the economy. “This is what we have agreed as leaders so that our people can interact by visiting each other’s country to do business and develop domestic tourism.” Uhuru said. So far the project has had considerable success, evidenced by the favorable ranking in the Africa’s Regional Integration Index.
EAC has also been commended for implementing easy travel for tourists intending to visit the region. On February 20 2014, the East Africa single tourist visa for Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda was launched by Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame. Tourists need not apply for visas from the three visas, the 90 days visa allows multiple entries in the three countries. Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda also embarked on marketing the region in international tourism fairs.
However, research has shown the project is still unpopular in the region. Kenya Tourism Federation announced in June 25 last year that 58 per cent of tourists had not used the single tourist visa, due to lack of awareness.
The Africa’s Regional Integration Index reported that, “When visa or work permit restrictions are cut, gains in time and resources open up, which supports more competitive businesses and economies.”
Africa Union Passports
Just like the European Union (EU) issues EU passports to citizens of its member states. The African Union (AU) will soon launch African passports to all Africans. The AU plans to issue the 53 Head of states, with the passports in efforts to popularize the travel document to their citizens.
EU passport holders don’t need visas to travel across Europe; likewise, AU passport holders will freely access all African countries without restrictions. “A few of us at the AU are already using that passport within Africa, and it is very useful, but we want the heads of states to carry it when they are visiting African countries to make it official and known to others as well.” Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission said.
African continent is still beset by restrictions of free movement of goods and services. During the African Leadership Forum held in Dar es Salam in July 2015. Olesugun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former president called for the abolition of visas by African governments. “What we need to do in order to speed the integration process is to abolish visas in Africa. West African countries have done it and it is working.” He said.
According to AfDB’s Africa Visa Openness Index (2016), 55 per cent of African countries still issue visas to African travellers intending to visit their countries. Only 20 per cent of African countries, allow visitors without visas. Seychelles has the best visa openness policy. “Visa openness promotes talent mobility and business opportunities. Africa’s leader’s and policymakers have a key role to play in helping Africans to move freely in support of (AU) Agenda 2063’s call, to abolish visa requirements for all Africans by 2018.” Moono Mupotola, AfDB’s Director of Regional Integration and Trade said.
The European Union has succeeded in economic and political integration, compared to other regional bodies in the world. It has a membership of 28 countries and has existed for more than 55 years.
Within the EU, there’s free movement of people and goods. In 1999, it successfully launched the Euro, replacing the member countries’ currencies, with the exception of Britain and Denmark.
The regional body was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, for contributing, ‘to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.’
Although Europe is a leading regional body, it is currently facing the threat of terrorism from Islamic State. It also has to cope with unprecedented immigration crisis, which has deeply divided EU’s membership on its policy on open borders for asylum seekers.
Terrorists attacks in EU’s capital Brussels, Belgium, on March 22 2016 that killed 31 people. And the deadly Paris terror attacks in 2015 have caused proponents of EU to be apprehensive on regional cohesion. Countries like Britain and France are now calling for tougher measures on EU’s immigration policy.
Another challenge for EU is the looming exit of Britain, the exit dubbed ‘Brexit’ will be determined by a referendum in 2017. Britain, a leading economy in Europe, has maintained its national currency, sterling pound, and declined to adapt the Euro currency. It has also restricted free flow of immigrants from Syria and other Middle East countries. If the referendum sails through, Britain will join Switzerland and Norway, which are the only European countries that are non-members of the EU.