News Analysis: Crisis, instability could be "Achilles' heel" for Africa's integration strive

12:18, February 02, 2011      

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The 16th African Union (AU) summit, which ended Monday in the Ethiopian capital after heated discussions, not on its designed theme on Africa's integration, but largely on the situation in Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan and Somalia.

Political crisis or instability in these countries has dominated the pan-African blog's summit agenda, as African leaders are well aware that they have become the "Achilles' heel" for the continent's integration strive. These issues need to be properly handled and reasonably solved, before Africa can continue pursuing its integration process, analysts said.

Africa has in recent years witnessed impressive progress in its integration efforts, especially in the economic field. Major regional economic communities have mapped out their blueprint of developing from free trade areas, customs unions, common markets, to monetary unions and even a possible political union.

Economic integration brought into Africa increased intra- regional trade, a series of regional cooperation, while creating fresh opportunities for the continent's development.

The basis for all of this, as analysts pointed out, is the general political stability witnessed throughout the continent.

A number of African countries have realized peaceful transition of power through elections in recent years. Ghana's presidential elections held in 2008, where then ruling party candidate Nana Akufo-Addo conceded defeat as he lost by a mere 0.46 percent of votes to his challenger John Atta Mills, was branded as a perfect example of maintaining stability through peaceful handover of power.

Similarly, countries including Mauritania and Guinea have all completed their transition from military rule to civilian government through elections, winning international commend.

A generally peace and stable environment enabled leaders and governments to focus on developing the economy and improving people's livelihoods, and further to carry out regional cooperation and economic integration, observers said.

The rosy picture started to pale, however, amid political crisis and social instabilities which erupted and spread on the continent.

West Africa is plagued by the political impasse in Cote d' Ivoire where "two presidents" are grappling for the top office; East Africa are facing increasingly rampant violence and terrorist attacks rooting in the lawless nation of Somalia; north Africa are stunned to see eruption of protests and unrest in Tunisia and Egypt; Sudan, which has ended its referendum to decide the south's fate, has to deal with a series of thorny issues if the south becomes an independent nation.

In Cote d'Ivoire, the longstanding confrontation between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara is putting the economic stability and integration process of the whole West African region at real risk.

The West African Central Bank, a crucial financial body in the region, has become the battlefield of power struggle between the two camps. Former governor Henri-Philippe Dacoury-Tabley was forced to step down because of its siding with Gbagbo, who in turn ordered the seizure of the country's assets from the bank.

Meanwhile, Ouattara ordered the suspension of the country's cocoa and coffee exports, in a bid to starve his rival's financial sources.

The political crisis is having negative impacts on its inland neighbor country Burkina Faso, whose road transport from the port of Abidjan has reduced remarkably, according to Burkina Faso's organization for long distance transporters.

Amid the standoff and increasingly dangerous situation, leaders of the regional's countries and blocs have been busy on mediation trips, grappling with solutions to break the ice, leaving barely time to discuss integration and development, analysts said.

It is encouraging, however, that Africa is still relentlessly crying for peace and stability, as is witnessed during the AU summit here.

Regional leaders including AU Commission head Jean Ping and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission head James Victor Gbeho both expressed their stance that the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire should be solved in a peaceful manner, and that the use of force should be the "last option."

To this end, AU decided to set up a special panel to evaluate the situation in Cote d'Ivoire, with the mandate of coming up with binding solution within one month.

Similar call for peace and stability in Somalia, Sudan, Egypt and Tunisia were also made during the summit. Whether these calls can be realized largely determines whether Africa's integration can achieve greater success.

In addition, this year at least 17, or nearly a third of the countries on the continent hold their elections. The future development of Africa's integration also depends on whether peace and stability can be maintained during these political junctures, analysts said.

Source: Xinhua(By Dan Ran, Shi Xu)
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