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Union Gov't for Africa Comes Under Spotlight
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A union government for Africa came under spotlight as a position paper on the issue is expected to be submitted to African heads of state, who will then present it to the African Union (AU) secretariat for consideration at the forthcoming summit to be held in Accra, Ghana in July, participants to a symposium in Harare were told on Thursday.

They were also told that the AU is targeting to achieve a continental government by 2015.

On Thursday, more than 200 people including African ambassadors accredited to Zimbabwe, academics and students converged at the University of Zimbabwe to contribute to the ongoing continental debate about the formation as well as explore the need and feasibility of a union government for Africa.

The symposium with the theme of "Grand Debate: Union Government for Africa", coming on the eve of the Africa Day commemorations, sought to highlight some of the various dimensions that need to be considered as the continent makes strides towards regional integration.

Needs for union government

In his keynote address, renowned scholar and Africa University vice chancellor Professor Rukudzo Murapa said Africa was the world's most fragmented region both politically and economically, and thus the need for continental unity in Africa could not be overemphasized.

He said it was important for Africa to have a continental government to favorably compete with other political unions and economic blocs in this globalized world. "A union government will allow for greater coordination and mobilization of resources, which is fundamental for growth and development," he said. "It will also give us better opportunities for economies of scale. A union government will mean 53 African countries (excluding Morocco) standing together with one voice, strength and unity."

A continental government, Murapa added, would reduce or eliminate incidents of opportunistic external interference in some countries.

However, in its attempts to move towards a union government, Africa needs to learn from the experiences of others and cited the European Union (EU), as perhaps the most advanced form of regional, international, economic and political integration achieved to date.

He said while the EU strategy had been to achieve complete economic integration in the short term and then to achieve political integration in the longer term, Africa should tread this ground carefully as beginning the integration process with a requirement for member states to forgo their sovereignty was bound to be counter-productive.

As a way forward, Murapa suggested that the continent should first aim to achieve integration in important areas of human welfare such as infrastructure development, communications, transportation, education, health and energy. He said infrastructure integration would facilitate the movement of people, goods and capital and thus promote integration.

Moreover, successes in these areas would have a "locomotive effect" and pull the rest of society in the direction of unity to the extent that politicians would realize the need to collaborate in the more sensitive areas such as security, politics and foreign policy, he said.

Professor Murapa said there was also need to use the numerous regional economic communities in the continent as building blocs for the envisaged continental government. He said rather than becoming polarized, these regional blocs such as Southern African Development Community, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, and the Economic Community of West African States, could be effectively harmonized into a single continental trading bloc to deal with other international blocs such as the EU and World Trade Organization.

Murapa however touched on the numerous challenges facing Africa, which he said could threaten the formation of the continental government. These include extreme poverty, bad governance, corruption, ethnicity, conflicts and an array of economic problems as well as great disparities as a result of unequal and uneven development between and within states.

Speaking at the same symposium, University of Zimbabwe's vice chancellor, Levi Nyagura, said notwithstanding the various successes that had been scored by the AU in tackling problems facing Africa, the continental body needed to be financially self- sustainable in order to reduce over reliance on donor support. " The challenge is therefore for all African countries to meet their obligations to the AU and avoid arrears," he said.

Nyagura said the union government needs to be founded on the already existing AU framework for it to be effective in promoting sustainable democracy, peace, stability and prosperity of the continent.

Strong economic base needed

Participants urged African leaders to lay a strong political foundation that will encourage economic integration and unity in order to move Africa towards a continental government.

African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) executive director Soumano Sako said an African Union government would rapidly facilitate the economic integration of the continent, speed up investment in various sectors of the economy and promote growth and macroeconomic stability in Africa.

He said there was a growing recognition of the economic and political advantage of having a united Africa, but expressed doubt whether African states would be willing to surrender their sovereignty to a supra-national institution serving as a union government.

He said while there had been a boom in Africa's trade in recent years, buoyed by high commodity prices, the continent needed to diversify revenue sources to power its economic growth. Africa must capitalize on the boom by pursuing polices which promote the non-resource sectors of the economy, encourage more diversification of Foreign Direct Investment inflows, and promoting intra Africa trade, he said.

The International Monetary Fund is projecting African exports to rise by US$69.5 billion to US$396 billion this year while imports will be US$287.4 billion. The trade surplus of US$108.6 billion, coupled with capital inflows of US$55 billion during recent years, could cause foreign exchange reserves to expand by 32 percent to US$306 billion, he said.

Much remains to be done

University of Zimbabwe lecturer, Joseph Cerebra, said a union government would reduce the scope of conflicts in the continent." With greater integration the scope of conflict will be limited although this does not eliminate conflict altogether," he said.

In coming up with a continental government, issues such as state sovereignty, national interest, the impact of AU policies on the politics of member states, economic harmonization and the values and cultural identity of the of AU, needed to be looked into. Whether the AU will evolve into a single country or a club of individual countries will also impact significantly on state sovereignty, he said.

Professor Rudo Gaidzanwa, also a UZ lecturer, said the union government for Africa should be people-centered. There is need to have a union for people rather than a union for governments, she said.

She said there was also need to promote free movement of people, linguistic integration and facilitate intra trade among Africa states as a prerequisite to the success of the continental government. "The union must be good in terms of content and quality. We should avoid the risk of having a union without development," she said.

However, some participants to the debate said the concept of establishing a union government is a contentious and contestable one, calling for promotion of trade among African countries instead of focusing all attention on trading with the North.

(Xinhua News Agency May 25, 2007)

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