MOVING BEYOND ACP’S COLONIAN HISTORY AND DONOR DRIVEN AGENDA
Speaking from my own experience as former Minister of East Africa Cooperation for Tanzania, when you decide you want to cooperate with each other, you have to put in place tools to achieve this. For example, we started in Eastern Africa wanting to promote trade amongst ourselves. You need a customs union to achieve that, so around five years after the creation of the East African Community (EAC) in 1999, the EAC started operations as a Customs Union (2005). The second stage was the creation of a Common Market in 2010. The next will be a monetary union, then finally political integration.
However while the Georgetown Agreement [which founded the ACP Group] lists various objectives, including improving trade relations –it does not talk about how to achieve these things. The Agreement should reflect the importance of putting in place a Customs Union and Common Market, amongst other things. Overall, we need a good strategic plan, with objectives, activities, and benchmarks. At this current juncture, it would be ideal to have one for 2014 – 2020, with a SWOT analysis and an analysis of interests of different stakeholders. It's something we should have had right from the very beginning, but we did not.
Focus on EU aid
Instead, the work of the ACP Group was guided by the partnership agreements with Europe – the Yaoundé Conventions, then the Lomé Conventions and now the Cotonou Agreement. I think at the beginning, the roots of the ACP stemmed from a relationship between former colonies and colonial masters, focused on their assistance. In other words, the European Development Fund (EDF) carries the relationship – it's donor-driven. The first EDF round was established after the Rome Treaty in 1959, when territories of France were brought into association status with the European Economic Community. Then every five years or so since then a new round of development assistance (EDF cycles) is negotiated. In 1964 we had the 2nd EDF, and by then some countries had gained their independence. The UK entered the EEC in 1973, bringing in its own former colonies right before the 4th EDF in 1974. Finally in 2000, the main focus grew from technical and financial assistance, to include trade and political dialogue dimensions. This also meant that development assistance was now conditional on “good governance” and other demands. Political dialogue was usually about meeting the necessary conditions to access development assistance funds.
Basically I think the Georgetown Agreement was largely established as a framework to consolidate members and negotiate with the EU. The elements of the ACP Headquarters Agreement [which regulates the ACP’s status as an international organisation in the Kingdom of Belgium] are not by default, but by design. Even the budget depends on the EU. Today however, we need to assess the interests of stakeholders after all these years. In fact, we need to revise our strategies every five years, because interests can change. When the ACP Group was founded in 1975, there were nine European members and 46 ACP members, then it grew to 15 EU and 77 ACP by 2000, and today there are 28 to 78. We must adapt our approach to be complimentary with these developments.
Evaluating the past, strategising the future
Also, I must stress the importance of having a monitoring and evaluation system. At the end of the day you have to be able to assess what you have done as well as the structures you are using, in order to judge if you are moving in the right direction. This was a key issue at EAC, where after five years, there was no monitoring or evaluation in place, so that you had to assess by looking at certain cases or trends and draw conclusions from that. For the ACP Group, because of the lack of an effective monitoring and evaluation system, it is finding it difficult now to establish and quantify after 50-odd years what has been accomplished by the Group or the ACP-EU Partnership.
The current process of transformation of the ACP Group also needs a strategic plan, otherwise there will be too many streams of activities, which creates confusion, and many extra institutions established.
Power in solidarity
Nonetheless, after all these years of solidarity, we can still make an impact on the global scene. I believe that united we remain strong, divided we fall. Our numbers count, as well as the fact that we've been together as a group for a long time. You would never command the same respect if it is just A alone or C alone or P alone – as you would with A-C-P together. Even if a country could not trade with Europe, it could still have access to special privileges because it is associated with another country that does. The ACP can negotiate together on key issues and get a good deal.
Not only that, we have cultural relations, similar economies, and even common genes. If we can't work well together, who else has that same level of linkages? We are the most closely related to each other and this alone can make ACP one of the strongest institutions ever. We just need to express the political will and commitment. Our original mistake of course with the Economic Partnership Agreements was breaking up and negotiating in regions. But we cannot correct that mistake by making another one, that is, by Africa continuing on its own, or the Caribbean on its own or the Pacific on its own.
Today, it is already feasible to have an “ACP Partnership Fund”. There are so many stakeholders who are willing to work with the ACP. Superpowers that were formerly uninterested in Africa, are now interested. We just need to re-organise ourselves. We have to show that we are ready to work with new partners, including all stakeholders whose objectives do not conflict with our objectives or those of our major partner.
* The views expressed are entirely those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of the ACP Group or any of its member states, the ACP Secretariat or the ACP Eminent Persons Group.