Sir, Thank you for the refreshing take on the economic integration of Africa expressed in ‘The Road To Integration Proves Grindingly Slow’ (William Wallis, June 8, 2010). As a Member of the African Union’s First Congress of African Economists and one acquainting US-based entrepreneurs and frontier investors with opportunities on the continent I found your article to be free of the ideological bias that obscures the facts as they are on the ground. Your simultaneous acknowledgement of the controversial yet undeniably pioneering role that Colonel Gadaffi has played in driving the effort toward a ‘United States of Africa;’ the unfortunate lack of follow-through on the ground;’ turf wars; the anemic level of intra-African trade and the lack of incentive to participate in the formal economy is rare in today’s Western media coverage.
Unfortunately most African nations – establishment regimes and opposition parties alike – continue to follow the blueprint of the least developed country (LDC) model first popularized in the 1960s by the UN, and later expanded by IMF and World Bank ‘conditionality’ which revolves around either the State-led export of labor and commodities and the import of finished goods which these produce, on one hand; and the supposedly ‘free-market’ approach of privatization schemes on the other. Despite being depicted as distinct methods of development, what these poles both share is the harmful premise that Africans themselves cannot be trusted to allocate the human, physical, and financial capital of their own nations, and that which comes to it, from abroad. Quite sadly, multi-lateral institutions, ‘aiding’ foreign governments, post-liberation leaders as well as an international financing structure have all been united in this view.
Until the African electorate and especially its entrepreneurs are entrusted with the fulfillment of this responsibility and given the incentive of a stake in the continent’s vast wealth, powerful kinship system identities (tribe, ethnicity, racial, religious and even ‘gang’) will prevent a gamble on the still fragile idea of nationhood and a common market. Progressive policies toward this end are the direct distribution of oil revenues which will electrify informal savings traditions and seed small business; dual citizenship and entrepreneurial visas that attract talent and capital from the diaspora (more like China and Israel, less like Russia); and the establishment of regional currency zones which replace national currencies too small to survive attack from domestic and foreign speculators and the tendency of weak governments to use central banks as their printing press.
If each nation-state were to unwind its business monopoly along these lines it would provide Col. Gadaffi and the business community a badly needed assist in popularizing economic integration, ending the brain drain of Africa’s youth and skilled professionals.
Founder and Chief Economist