Migration and Civil Society as development drivers within a regional context – 5th Study Group Meeting of the WAI-ZEI Research Cooperation

3858“The Ebola Crisis clearly reflects the governance deficits on the African continent and makes integrated responses on a regional level more necessary than ever before. Since the first outbreak of Ebola almost thirty years ago, no consequences and lessons have been drawn”. It was with these unequivocal words that the Chairman of the WAI-Board and former Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cabo Verde, Jose Brito, welcomed the participants of the 5th Study Group Meeting in the framework of the WAI-ZEI Research Cooperation  which took place on 8th - 9th September, 2014 at the Ministry of External Relations (MIREX) of Cabo Verde. The current outbreak of the epidemic led to a reduced number of participants at the meeting due to closure of borders by the Government of Cabo Verde. In light of this alarming crisis, the potentials and problems in the field of migration and civil society engagement, which are inherently connected to the current Ebola crisis, were discussed by prestigious scholars and practitioners from both Europe and Africa.

3812For the first time in the WAI-ZEI Project, some participants held their presentation via video link. This further proves the growing importance of modern communication technology in the area of education and research in West Africa, which can be utilized to overcome existing infrastructural deficits. This topic will be discussed in detail within a further workshop in the framework of the WAI-CEDIR Fellowship. Financed by the German BMBF, the workshop will scrutinize the connection between higher education and regional integration and is scheduled at the end of September in Praia.

In her introductory speech, the General Director of WAI, Prof. Djénéba Traoré, resumed the results of the WAI-ZEI Research Cooperation after having acknowledged all WAI Partners and supporters and the organizing team. She underlined the relevant cooperation of the experts of the WAI-ZEI project  and also presented the most recent publications of WAI.

3871Subsequently, the presentations in the economic research area paid particular attention to effects of intra-regional migration on the regional labour market of West Africa. In response to data deficits, the recommendation to introduce a Migration Information System was raised. Furthermore, the experts stressed the importance of surmounting language barriers through targeted and timely education measures. What is more, border management in West Africa ought not to be perceived by responsible bodies as a means of control, but rather as security services for citizens in the framework of the free movement of people within the ECOWAS Zone. However, this would require a deep and lasting change in awareness.

In the framework of further study sessions, the potential and impact of international remittances by migrants and members of the Diaspora for their countries of origin was assessed. Remittances represent cross-border financial support via person-to-person payments from the Diaspora to assist their families in the countries of origin. In order to better apply and make use of the economic potential of remittances as a source of poverty reduction and future investment stimulus, the African Union (AU) recently established the African Institute for Remittances (AIR). Its experiences were shared in the context of the conference. Additionally, Prof. Matthias Lücke from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy highlighted the importance of a targeted facilitation of legal migration and the adjustment of international education, pension and health system standards in order to prevent  „Brain Drain“ and illegal migration. To allow for the possible return of migrants to their countries of origin (circular migration), domestic conditions have to be altered and improved as well.

In the context of the first research area, which focuses on political aspects of regional policy formulation, Prof. Ludger Kühnhardt presented a historical review of the last hundred years following the beginning World War I, to point to the lessons learned from this seminal catastrophe and analyze its effect on the development of regional awareness. Simultaneously, he emphasized that these lessons are constantly put to the test via pressing global conflicts. Consequently, a convincing and active promotion of the regional idea under the umbrella of democratic values remains essential. The intrinsic link between the importance and contribution of civil society and cultural factors became evident during further presentations. Nana Afadzinu of the West African Civil Society Institute (WACSI) in Ghana underlined that civil society actors, ranging from student organizations to unions, have always been engines of regional integration in West Africa. This holds also true for the engagement of NGOs and women’s organizations in the field of peace and security. However, she also critically assessed that the actual political influence of these transnational actors remains limited and their potential unused due to obstacles in capacity-related and organizational shortcomings. Prof. Stefan Fröhlich from the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg advocated in his presentation that the role of civil society in Europe only gained importance after the epochal events of 1989/90. The critical, if not even negative, attitude vis-à-vis the European integration process until the present day can also be referred back to the widely perceived distance between EU institutions and the European people. This was reflected, according to Prof. Fröhlich, in the refusal to accept the European Constitution in 2005. In light of these problems, he further highlights the distinct learning potential for Europe that radiates from the bottom-up development of civil societal engagement in West Africa since the 90s.

Additionally, Prof. Abderrahmane Ngaidé from the Université Cheick Anta Diop in Dakar assessed the importance of cultural diversity for regional integration in West Africa. From his perspective, the historical experiences of the region with its historical kingdoms and diverse governance-styles existing in harmony or at least compatibly, are proof of the fact that the perceived ethnic fault lines of today do not represent an insurmountable hurdle for regional integration. Instead as in the past, cultural diversity ought to be used positively in order to achieve the proclaimed goal of an “ECOWAS of the People”.

3857Finally, Prof. Manuel Guilherme Junior in his position as Director of the Centre of Studies on Regional Integration and SADC Law in Maputo, Mozambique, presented a supplementary comparative perspective. In his presentation about the challenges for integration in Southern Africa, he suggested that while the ECOWAS region recently introduced a Customs Union, this step in integration is missing within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) due to the multiple memberships of its constituent members. Against this background, the creation of a so-called Tripartite Free Trade Agreement is about to be implemented which not only includes SADC, but furthermore the members of the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Eastern African Community (EAC).

The workshop was part of the research- and consultation project “Sustainable Regional Integration in West Africa and Europe”, a cooperation between WAI and ZEI. The cooperative research- and consultation project is supported and financed by the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) over the years 2012 until 2016. It has been identified as a beacon project in the thematic areas of Education and Transformation in the framework of the Ministry’s Africa Strategy . The next workshop will take place in Praia in March 2015.

The papers of the conference will be published as WAI-ZEI papers subsequent to the conference. To date, 19 WAI-ZEI Paper and three Regional Integration Observer (RIO) are available for download. Further aspects of the project include the established WAI library in Praia as well as the envisaged establishment of a special Master Program in African Regional Integration , in close cooperation with the National University of Cabo Verde (UNI CV). The Master Program represents a substantial achievement in the advancement of educational opportunities in scientific and practical education in the field of regional integration for the whole West Africa. It is currently undergoing evaluation process via the UNI CV governance structures.

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