Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Conflict and Integration:
Unorthodox Shoots of Regional Cooperation in the Horn of Africa

Orthodox integration theory requires that countries have functional institutions, sufficient capacity to control their populations, adequate structures to regulate socio-economic and political activity within and across their territories and political leadership willing to cede some state sovereignty in order to realise regional cooperation.

The Horn of Africa, perennially caught up in conflict, fraught cross-border political relations, uneven state capacities, competing multilateral/regional bodies like IGAD, CEN-SAD, EAC, COMESA and low levels of interstate trade and other economic complementarities is thus characteristically deficient of the requisite frameworks for formal regional integration and cooperation. States are too fragile, institutions too weak, and leaders fixated to conservatist ideologies on national sovereignty and statehood.

In exploring the prospects for regional cooperation in the Horn of Africa therefore, the fundamental question is: Can economic drivers transform the endemic conflict in the region OR Does political instability obviate the prospects of economic cooperation?

Evidence form Sally (2011) Chatham House Report, indicates that despite the climate of conflict, insecurity and political upheaval, shoots of integration and cooperation; are prevalent and continue to sprout in the horn of Africa though working outside conventional frameworks of formal integration. These are facilitated by kinship and community ties across borders, the hawala system and substantial remittances from citizens in diaspora. Substantial volumes of informal cross-border trade in livestock, khat, coffee, oil seeds, pulses medicines, clothing and fuel takes place in border towns Moyale (Kenya), Bardheere (Somalia), Tug Wajule (Somalia) and Matema annually. This has demonstrated that cross-border linkages and economic relations to a significant extent can thrive in the absence of formal state structures and interstate mediation for cooperation.

Perhaps, therefore, resources and effort should be invested in leveraging such less state-centric informal cross-border relations instead of formal state-state cooperation as an approach to regionalism in the Horn of Africa. Focusing more on bolstering cross-border relations between communities endemically engulfed in conflict, expanding such relations to more productive economic ventures, formalising normally illicit economic activities, improving management of shared resources that bind communities and producing more regional public goods that foster integration.           

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