Photo: US Army Africa, CC BY 2.0

Economic integration for peace

How can regional economic organizations like ECOWAS and IGAD further strengthen their capacity to promote peace in Africa? This is the theme of a two-day policy dialogue in Abuja, Nigeria.

Although Africa’s Regional Economic Communities (REC) were set up primarily to promote economic integration, they have increasingly played an important role in conflict resolution and other aspects of peace process in Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone and elsewhere in Africa.

“The performance of traditional organizations like the UN has not been impressive. Also, most of the global powers are now retreating from active engagement outside their immediate geographical locations. In this context regional organizations have become increasingly visible in promoting peace and development”, says Victor Adetula, Head of Research at the Nordic Africa Institute.

Furthermore, the growing complexity of the problems of violent conflict, insecurity and other development challenges in the post-Cold War world require greater cooperation across national borders.

“How do you think one country can work alone and effectively address the problem of drought, desertification, pest invasion, human trafficking, illegal drug trade, terrorism etcetera?”, says Adetula.

He says that regional cooperation is increasingly important in the discourse on African development.

Adetula speaks of ‘regional public goods’, a concept that he says helps us better understand the challenges facing modern states. 

“Where sovereign states are unable to meet up maximally with the demand of citizens for public services, especially security and development, they have to rely on regional arrangements. Protection of lives and property as well as ensuring a secure and stable environment for the wellbeing of citizens are today ‘global public goods issues’ that require cooperation among nation-states.”

Victor Adetula.

He further notes that development is only possible in a peaceful environment.

“Peace and security have become very, very vital components of regional public goods. If you want to build peace, be it in a conflict-affected zones or post-conflict societies, regional organizations are necessary.”

“It is our concern as development researchers and policy analysts to support existing Africa regional organizations to do more and improve on their understanding of their expanded mandate as regional institutions with responsibility for peace and development in their respective regions, so that peace-building is not just seen as a one-off intervention alone, but where peace-building is seen as a ‘public good’ from development perspective. Sustainable peace in post-conflict societies can only be achieved if peace-building programmes are conceived, designed and managed from development perspective.”

The West-African organization ECOWAS has taken the lead in promoting collective security. Its intervention in the Liberian crisis in 1990 was the first experiment with intervention by a sub-regional organization in post-Cold war Africa.   

“ECOWAS is a model in some respect for other sub-regional cooperation schemes  such as IGAD, SADC, and ECCAS”, Adetula explains.

When practitioners, academics, analysts, diplomats, and civil society representatives rub minds together in Abuja 1-2 September, they will look at what can be learned from the ECOWAS experience. 

FACTS - Policy Dialogue in Abuja 1-2 September

About a hundred  participants will engage in the policy dialogue. It will include an opening session, 5-6 plenary sessions, and a concluding session that will focus on key recommendations and way forward for the regional economic communities  in their mandates.  Key note speaker is Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Honorable Minister of Solid Minerals Development, and Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Policy Dialogue is arranged by the Nordic Africa Institute in collaboration with the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) in Abuja, the Social Science Research Council-Africa Peacebuilding Network (SSRC-APN) and in partnership with ECOWAS and IGAD.

FACTS - Africa's Regional Economic Communities

Currently, there are eight RECs recognised by the AU, each established under a separate regional treaty. They are:

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