This week was a memorable week for African Economies that took a firm step towards integration of their economies with the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA). Though some criticism refers to it as a small baby step, the relative short process of negotiations between the three major sub-regional groupings (SADC, COMESA and EAC) reflects a good amount of political will.
The involvement of sub-regional entities may have been a distinct feature that has helped considerably. Certainly when comparing to the attempt of western economies to connect across the Atlantic in the negotiations on a new Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP). This process saw quite some hick-ups over the last week, facing some fierce opposition in European Parliament linked to differences in environmental standards. What made African economies, that seem so diverse, to relatively easily achieve agreement while Western countries failed to do the same?
The answer lies partly in the other theme that was tabled during the 25th AU Summit that is being held in South-Africa this week. African women are increasingly demanding recognition for their role in society. They are often also the economic engines of households and therefore important cornerstones of society. And also in institutions like the African Development Bank and other important actors in the area they are maintaining important positions. They seem to have less trouble allowing some of the male leadership at the Heads of State level to claim some victories as long as they can set the agenda's. This certainly has happened this year with the theme of the summit: YEAR OF WOMEN EMPOWERMENT AND DEVELOPMENT TOWARDS AFRICA’S AGENDA 2063
The theme shows two things: Women empowerment is high on the agenda and the time horizon chosen shows attention to long-term planning and impact, beyond many of the current leaders' life span.
Another reason for the difference between the pace in Africa and slow pace in Europe may be found in the absence of strong institutions at state level in most African nations. State leaders are therefore less constrained by what their citizen want. Most of the institutions that are functioning at state level are relatively young and have not necessarily resulted from endogene processes of establishing common norms or solidifying patterns of behaviour. Hence having these states decide together on new transnational institutions (that have more of a free trade than of a common market feature at present) will have much less bearing on national decision-making processes. It will inform them though and from that point of view deserve serious attention.
Nevertheless, whatever the male dominated summit will discuss today on free trade, terms of presidents to remain in office, peace and security and migration (possibly behind closed doors), women will be important drivers of change, not to be neglected. Listen to what Africa women want...
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
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Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.