The Proposed Horn of Africa Economic Integration: A Guide for the Perplexed
For the last several weeks, people of the Horn of Africa, have been engaged in debates about new bold idea of a regional integration initiative in the Horn Africa
Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. Baruch Spinoza
For the last several weeks, people of the Horn of Africa, have been engaged in debates about new bold ideas of reform presented by the new populist, energetic leader of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed. The new premier has embarked on (1) a wide-ranging transformative economic and political reform in Ethiopia and (2) a regional integration initiative in the Horn of Africa region. The former part attracted both praise and criticism. (See Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Shows Knack for Balancing Reform and Continuity, Can Ethiopia’s Reforms Succeed?, and Ethiopia: climbing Mount Uncertainty). It is the later part of the proposal – the idea of a regional economic integration – that has not yet fully been scrutinized. The following paragraphs discuss Abiy Ahmed’s vision for the region, the pace with which the premier thrusts his vision and the reality in the region.
To the prime minister’s credit, the region needs new fresh ideas. Indeed, some form of economic coordination can facilitate economic growth and political stability in the region. It is quite plausible that some form of economic coordination, may pave the way for a gradual slow rapprochement over the next 40 years or so. On the other hand, attempting a quick implementation of a full-fledged political integration will only produce grave risks to the stability of the region by exasperating the existing ethnic tensions, especially if such attempts proceed with the current hurried pace. This is certain because there are serious political and practical problems with the idea of political integration in the Horn of Africa. A region mired by conflict, social unrest and distrust amongst the inhabitants.
There are also contentious technical issues that require unambiguous determination prior the formulation of any regional integration. Questions remain today, about how equitable are the stakeholders engaged in the process? What kind of economic or trading bloc? And how to create an impartial common space for economic and political action for the parties concerned?
An equitable participation in formulating these policies and designing the future of the region is crucial for successful regional economic cooperation. It is worth noting that economic literature on Africa’s economic integration informs us that countries in the region failed to realize economic integration partially because of political issues, rivalry, state-society relations, questions of sovereignty, exclusionary policies, and parochial interests. It is therefore unclear if and how Abiy Ahmed’s enthusiasm alone can single-handedly overcome these long-standing serious challenges.