Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown was in Maputo, Mozambique, to speak about future prospects for political and economic development in Africa. (Read the speech here.) And he did so by talking about the need for greater development not at national level but at regional level. It is through cooperation, he said, that African countries will take the next steps towards prosperity and stability.
He calls for them to:
“Use the opportunity of the crisis to speed up the process of regional integration: economically, in terms of trade and infrastructure, politically in terms of institutions and the African Union, and socially and culturally in terms of Africa’s impact on the world stage and its sense of solidarity at home.”
There are several ways in which these steps will help.
First, there is the economy. Regional cooperation can boost trade: apparently only 5 per cent of African countries’ trade is with other African countries, whereas in Europe or East Asia that figure is 50 per cent. There is a major opportunity being missed at the moment.
Trade can be boosted by reducing tariffs, streamlining customs procedures and improving transport infrastructure. Some of this requires financial investment, but some of it simply requires political determination. Reducing bureaucracy is not always easy because lots of underpaid bureaucrats use their positions to take bribes on the side, but in a way that makes it doubly important.
Lord Malloch-Brown is also enthusiastic about the role of regional cooperation in improving the standard of national democracy. It will make it harder to coups to succeed and prosper, and will help to establish stronger independent media and political parties. Democracy, as Paul Collier observed in his book “The bottom billion”, depends not only on electoral competition but on continual checks and balances, too.
The role of international courts is also important, in helping to secure human rights and also in settling disputes between states that might otherwise, or which already have, erupt into war.
He is careful to limit his horizons of what regional cooperation means or might lead to:
“if Africa is to deepen democracy to put sovereignty firmly in the hands of its people then it’s through a regional push that it will get there. But let me be clear that this is not a veiled call for a united states of Africa but rather like the EU using economic integration and regional institutions as the vehicles for national success.”
But nevertheless, the measures he describes would amount to welcome progress.