Science meets practice: The results of the WAI-ZEI Mid-Term Conference

Mid Term Confe Essien“We still have a way to go to make regional integration more effective, but the process is irreversible. This should be recognized”. With these words, Essien Abel Essien, the director of the Strategic Planning Unit in the ECOWAS Commission in Abuja highlighted the underlying dynamics of the integration process in West Africa during his presentation at the WAI-ZEI Mid-Term Conference from 21st-23rd October at the Ministry for External Relations (MIREX) in Praia. The conference marked the end of the first phase of the research cooperation between WAI and ZEI and conducted in the years 2012-2016 with the support of the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Mid term con group2The main topics of the event, the record of regional integration in West Africa and the future of European-West African relations were timely given the anniversaries of the Revised Treaty of ECOWAS in 2013 (20 years), of WAEMU in 2014 (20 years), of ECOWAS in 2015 (40 years) and the preparations for the Europe-Africa Summit in April 2014. ECOWAS encompasses 15 Member States with a population of over 350 Mio. inhabitants.

In the full conference room of MIREX, researchers from both regions intensively debated on the achievements and the challenges of political, economic and legal regional integration in West Africa. There was a wide consensus among participants and guests that the legal enforcement mechanisms and the sensitization of the region´s citizens for their human and economic rights have to be further enhanced. Experts argued that Member States have to learn to stick to regional rules as it lies in their own longer-term benefit. 

The “ECOWAS Rice Initiative” was discussed from an economic point of view as an example for a successful regional policy approach as well as problems of free circulation of persons and goods. A further intervention touched the problem of a West African energy policy. There are large potentials of fossil and of renewable energy resources in the region as a whole but unfortunately they either remain untapped or are disconnected across borders. The lack of legal frameworks and effective governance impedes the private sector from investing more in the energy sector.Mid term con2

The crucial role of security as a precondition for development and the value that a regional approach can add in this field was another topic. Furthermore, the Director General of the Cape Verdean Ministry for Rural Development, Carla Helena Tavares, explained to the audience the challenges of a regional agricultural policy taking the example of Cape Verde.

Two days before the meeting of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government in Dakar, Senegal, to agree on the implementation of a Common External Tariff (CET) in the whole ECOWAS region, researchers analyzed its possible effects on intra-regional trade and also on the trade relationship with Europe and the ongoing Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) negotiations.

Prof. Tony Chafer and Ed Stoddard from the University of Portsmouth showed in their presentation that the legitimacy European foreign policy is striving for, in particular towards Africa, can often be undermined by its vested security or economic interests. This obvious contradiction was also part of the discussion of the policy recommendations for a more balanced West-Africa EU partnership in the future. The working sessions were focused on finding ways to fill the idea of an equal partnership with life and to create situations of mutual benefit. The two regions come from different starting points but share common interests. Therefore, it was recommended that the partners should exchange more, especially culturally, and in the education and academic sector and to avoid mutual blockade because of existing prejudices. The conference was an example of an honest exchange of opinions and approaches aiming at increasing mutual understanding. Against this background, the recommendations that were formulated will be sent to decision makers on both sides as a unique contribution of academics and practitioners from West Africa and Europe.Mid-term-con4

Furthermore, the conference offered the opportunity to exchange on other pressing problems in Africa like migration, brain drain and others.

The WAI-ZEI cooperation will publish the conference paper as a WAI-ZEI Paper in early 2014. Up to now, nine WAI-ZEI Papers and two Regional Integration Observers (RIO) were edited and are available for download here. Further aspects of the project are: the conduct of monitoring measures, the establishment of a library of WAI in Praia and the elaboration of a specific Master Program in African Regional Integration in cooperation with the University of Cape Verde (UNI CV). Following its comprehensive research strategies, the cooperation will now enter into its second phase with its next workshop taking place in Avignon in March 2014.

 

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