Should the ACP Group continue to exist, and on what basis?
The African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states are at a crossroads about their future. Formed in 1975 as an example of South South solidarity; and to facilitate their interests vis-à-vis the European Union (EU), this organisation is facing major challenges in a changed global environment. The EU has since expanded and its new members require more support; the global economic crises has stretched the EU’s weaker economies; emerging countries have become more powerful relative to the west and the EU is seeking increased partnerships with these nations which the ACP resents; the EU is seeking better terms for its relations with the ACP in so called Economic Partnership Agreements which have sharply divided the latter. In addition the ACP has to contend with being a disparate group in terms of geographical spread and sizes of countries; different levels of development; cooperation at the governmental levels but very little people to people or business to business relations. Interestingly, with the globe having changed so much should the ACP still be so tied to the EU; maintain its Secretariat in Brussels; not be more self-funded? Lastly, EU aid is largely tied to the utilisation of EU products and services, so that a significant amount does not benefit the ACP. It these challenges and others that the recently constituted ACP Group of Eminent Persons has to advise the body on a future roadmap. I argue that this will be a futile exercise and will not radically transform the ACP, since the political will to implement the appropriate measures is lacking; the EU should serve as an example to the ACP in this regard. The regional integration omelette cannot be made without cracking the eggs of nationalism.
What future for the ACP?
The ACP came into existence to fight for the interests of members in their relations with the EU. Initially former French colonies had been associate members of the EU, starting from the early 1960s, because France wanted to maintain various benefits from and for the erstwhile colonies and gradually they were joined by former colonies of the Dutch, Britain, Portuguese and Spaniards as the EU expanded. Presently the ACP number 80 countries. The relationship is supposed to be a partnership of equals, but its foundation of former colonies and continuously expecting and being dependant on their colonisers and a group of other European countries has hampered this goal. One of the greatest weaknesses of the ACP is its inability to be self-reliant. Countries won independence but not liberation; especially mental liberation. ACP countries were not the only ones that were colonised, suffered from being pawns during the cold war, have been victims of neo-colonialism etc. Many ACP countries at the time of independence starting in the 1960s were on the same development level with other ex-colonies in Asia, Latin America and Middle East. Yet today the ACP is generally far behind these other regions. Countries need to accept what they are endowed with as their strengths and also recognise what opportunities are available to them. They then build on these to move forward. Meanwhile they have to acknowledge their weaknesses and threats and endeavour to overcome these with all legitimate and legal means possible. All the above must occur in a multilateral system which hopefully seeks a world built on the values of the United Nations of equality, equity, peace, security and sustainable development for all.
African countries in 2013 celebrated 50 years since the formation of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963. During the first 30 years the euphoria of independence died away in many countries as democracy was buried; one party states and military regimes proliferated; conflicts and civil wars were widespread; and socioeconomic development regressed. There were only a few countries that made sustainable development progress. Oxfam reported that Africa lost over $300bn between the 1960s to 1980s as a result of conflicts; the African Progress Panel reports that illicit financial transfers of over $1.3 trillion left Africa between 1970 to 2008. It was this largely negative picture which led the Economist magazine to issue the "Hopeless Continent" headline for Africa in its May 2000 edition. Interestingly in March 2013 it led with another headline "Emerging Africa: A hopeful continent" which is riding a wave of socioeconomic growth as the fastest growing region globally, increased commodity production and prices, rising foreign investments and other positive developments. This is not to suggest that Africa’s challenges are over.
Meanwhile, the Caribbean and Pacific states are made up largely of islands and they have relied on agriculture, fisheries, financial services and tourism, with a few having substantial mining sectors. Many of these countries, especially in the Pacific are not viable states and should seriously consider creating confederations to reduce the duplication of effort and waste of resources. Unfortunately the allure of nationalism makes this a pipe dream. Nevertheless, these regions have had a relatively better development journey than Africa over the past half century.
In 2012 the global HDI average was 0.694 and Sub-Saharan Africa was the lowest region with 0.475; the Caribbean was 0.741 and Pacific 0.683.
|REGION||HDI SCORE||LIFE EXPECTANCY||MEAN YEARS OF SCHOOLING||EXPECTED YEARS OF SCHOOLING||GNI PER CAPITA in USD|
Source: UN Human Development Report 2013, p25.
A review of various global indexes has the least developed countries (LDC) as the foundation or lower end and these are all found mainly in Africa (34) and a few others in the Caribbean (1) and Pacific (5) (with the remaining 10 in Asia). Most of these countries are natural resource rich, yet they have squandered these and not dealt with the income, human resources and economic vulnerability issues that have permanently ensconced them in the LDC space. Leaders of some countries prefer being in this category so that they continue receiving donor aid and international sympathy. The greatest challenges in ACP states are ones of leadership, governance, weak civil society and international support for tyrannical leaders. Countries have been unable to utilise their human and material resources to develop themselves. They are shamed by a city state like Singapore with little natural resources, which has invested in leadership, its population, institutions, infrastructure and geographic position to propel it from a poor to developed state over the past fifty years. Furthermore, some former colonies have presently surpassed their former colonisers, e.g Brazil and Portugal; the USA and Britain and USA.
The globe has never been a friendly place especially for the small and weak. Stronger nations have used power politics to further their interests or subdue other nations from time immemorial, as evidenced by colonialism; post-World War II international system; Apartheid South Africa’s attacks on its neighbours; the Iraqi invasions amongst many examples.
The South presently accounts for a third of global output and consumption of goods and services, driven largely by China, India and Brazil (in 1950 these 3 countries accounted for only 10% global output). These changes have been internally driven even if dependant on external markets. Importantly for the ACP they show that it is possible, even though their circumstances may be different. Thus nations seek to become developed, more powerful and influential in global issues. Few nations, like China and the USA have been able to achieve this largely on their own. Regionalism has therefore been the route pursued by others. Initially this was undertaken on the basis of geographical proximity, similar history and values etc starting with western Europe. From the ashes of war they came together to found a strong regional bloc. Other parts of the world followed suit and sub-regional and regional blocs have proliferated; with virtually each country being a member of more than one bloc. However, as globalisation spread and the world became a smaller place other attributes have taken prominence. Countries have joined blocs based on political or socioeconomic criteria, with the largest and most diverse ones being in the developing world, with the ACP being a good example. However, the formation of a regional block is only the first step, a lot more is required after that for its success.
The ACP has decided that its Eminent Persons Group can assist it grapple with a better future. Some jokes on google like the four below this article highlight the challenges the Eminent Persons face. What is really expected from them that governments, academia, business and the people of the ACP countries cannot achieve? Will this be another waste of resources, where a group of 12 people, mainly former government officials are given opportunities at tax payers expense to travel, wine and dine, stay in expensive accommodation and receive huge per diem and produce a report which could have cost much less if there was more commitment to developing the ACP? The Eminent Persons can only make recommendations and these will just be an addition to the numerous studies and strategic plans existing. Interestingly, many of the Eminent Persons served as government authorities and did not implement numerous ACP plans then. Thus can they expect much more from their successors? I am unconvinced that the political will exists in the ACP; nor does the EU (and other powers) want a strong and united ACP! Furthermore, it is unlikely, based on geographical spread of members and the attendant expense, as well as the present limited scope of intra and inter-regional trade and investment, that ACP cooperation will be more than governmental. It is unlikely that an ACP identity will ever similarly to that in the EU. In fact 50 years on after the formation of the three sub-regions of the ACP identify more with their individual countries than as African, Caribbean or Pacific citizen. This shows that regionalism is more than just inter-governmental cooperation.
Notwithstanding, I argue that the ACP could become a strong triangle if the individual building blocks are strengthened; variable geometry of development is recognised; targeted engines of growth for each region are chosen; cooperation and solidarity is on fewer issues; greater self-reliance is embarked upon and greater; and understanding that the globe has changed, so they should seek other partners to counter balance relations with the EU. The ACP needs to note that the members are in numerous other international organisations and if it cannot deliver, some may leave; contribute less to it and it could die a slow death.
A committee is a group of the unprepared, appointed by the unwilling to do the unnecessary.
If you see a snake, just kill it - don't appoint a committee on snakes.
A camel is a horse designed by a committee.
A committee keeps minutes and wastes hours.
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.