Welcome to Foresight For Development

Regional Integration III

Regional Integration III Feature Article


Dr. Leonard Martin, content manager at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), spoke to Frieda le Roux, ForesightforDevelopment’s project officer, about the importance of regional integration in Southern Africa. The significance of foresight in regional integration is also looked at.
This is the fourth article in a series on regional integration (Issue I) (Issue II).


In the fourth report in a series on African integration, the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) starts their summary on the state of integration in Africa by stating the issue has “preoccupied many African leaders since the early years of independence. Many have viewed it as a tool for promoting economic growth and sustainable development and improving the living standards of the African people. The overall strategic objective of regrouping African countries was to fight the impact of colonialism and build a united Africa”1.

Now this longstanding challenge – albeit on a regional level – has also gripped the imagination of researchers at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA).

Regional integration in an African context mean different things to different people: for some it may be regional (Sub-Saharan Africa); or the legacy of a previous time, like uniting all former French colonies; an economic union (ECOWAS); or maybe it has multiple goals (SADC).

MISTRA’s intention with the programme for regional integration is situating South Africa as a democracy within this agenda. For this, the key point is our national perspective on Africa’s position regarding:
1. Economic stability;
2. Democracy, and;
3. Economic integration.

Dr. Leonard Martin refers to these three areas as important ‘pillars’ when dealing with the issue of regional integration now and in the long run.

He also emphasizes the importance of education: teaching society the value of participation in the governing process, as well as in understanding the effect of socio-economic processes. “In terms of trade and migration, the private and public sectors converge in terms of their interests.” As an example he cites the recent outbreaks of xenophobia in SA, mainly due to migration from Zimbabwe due to a trying economic and political situation. (According to UNECA, limited labour mobility is one of the challenges towards integration in Africa2.)

When engaging with freedom of movement, one also engages with freedom of trade: cross-border tax, for instance, asks for the free-flow of communication, trade and people. “With this you embark into the global sphere, which highlights complexities of regional integration.” And because it features as a global aspect, it’s important to find balance between intra-competitiveness with other countries without impacting adversely on the longer term Southern African integration project.

UNECA says in a report on African integration: “Globalization and world trade liberalization mean that Africa cannot ignore the requirements of the multilateral trading system while pursuing integration . . . African regional economic communities need to respond to changing global realities, preparing their member states to take advantage of the opportunities of global trade—including building the capacity to successfully conduct international negotiations (such as those within the WTO framework) and ensuring that they adequately reflect African interests and concerns.”

But for the late Ugandan Prof. Dani Wadada Nabudere3 (1932-2011), the focus on local and regional markets means developing a local approach to economic management” which will then have “implications for the way in which we look at the world,” Nabudere asserts.

This “way in which we look at the world” is largely one of the legacies of the European involvement in Africa. Prof. Philip Spies, Professor Emeritus in Future Studies at the Stellenbosch University, writes4: “Colonisation was a strategic instrument. The colonial powers were not philanthropists serving humanity but conquerors searching for wealth, resources and spatial hegemony. To support this quest they developed modern infrastructure, modern extractive systems (e.g. forestry, mining and farming), modern socio-economic systems (including labour systems) and modern state and financial institutions in their colonies. Colonial modernisation represents the first wave in the transformation of Sub-Saharan Africa. But colonial modernisation came at a price. Colonialists applied force to suppress dissent, to enforce their political order and to strengthen colonial governance.”

The “conquerors searching for wealth, resources and spatial hegemony” (Spies) are the ones who enforced “their political order”, and implemented the “multinational vertical-integration” upon the people referred to by Nabudere. According to Nabudere regional development should have been a “horizontal” development. “Only then production for global markets can be pursued.”

Nabudere, who rejected the capitalist system as a “one-size fits all” approach, described China’s growing dealings with African countries as “different kinds of arrangements . . . promising large investments to promote its own development”. He described this involvement as an opportunity for Africa to reduce its dependence on “former colonial powers as well as the United States”. (He did not touch on the decision-making and even political influence China stood to gain.)

He felt the “Emerging Powers and local powers” – China, Brazil and South Africa, amongst others – had an important role to play in future amongst other developing nations. “South Africa should lead African states to link with these economies to help Africa disentangle itself from the aprons of the imperialist powers.”

It seems as if these ties are anyway nearing their end. According to Michael Kahn, research fellow at the Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), African countries can now “pick and choose who they wish to deal with5. Whilst still weak technocratically they have attained a new agency strengthened by the discrediting of structural adjustment and the other financial prescripts from Washington.”
Because of its “its Middle East and near East concerns”, the USA’s role in Africa will, in any case, be diminished. “Coupled with the challenge to the US dollar as the global currency and unsustainable US debt, the extent to which the US government will intervene more strongly as an economic player is doubtful. The EU with its own economic woes will not, and cannot intervene substantively.”

But Kahn is also not very welcoming of China’s interests: “In particular China has emerged as the partner of choice for the authoritarian and kleptocratic states who have embraced China with its promise of revenues from resource extraction”. This also indicates that there has already been a start to BRICS “carv[ing] up the opportunities in Africa”.
He is firmly of the opinion that the future of regional (and even African) integration is grounded in the capitalist system. From the South African perspective, he mentions the relationship the state has with capital, political leadership, labour and civil society as critical.

In a report on global competitiveness, competitiveness and growth, economist Dominick Salvatore, from Fordham University in New York, summarises with the following6: “Globalisation is important because it increases productivity; it is inevitable because nations and their firms cannot hide from it. The more globalised economies are usually more internationally competitive than less globalised ones. More internationally competitive countries also tend to grow faster than less internationally competitive ones.

In support of Salvatore’s stance, Prof. Thandika Mkandawire referred to improving the notion of the ‘democratic developmental states’ rather than having to ‘build’ states from the ground during MISTRA’s inaugural lecture earlier this year7 .
In this approach he also emphasizes Martin’s original three points as key factors for successful regional integration. African countries must work at being:
1. Developmental (in the sense that they facilitate and promote economic growth and structural transformation);
2. Democratic (in the sense that they derive their legitimacy through popular participation and electoral processes), and;
3. Socially inclusive (in the sense that they pursue social policies that ensure equitable entitlements of all their citizens to ensure that their capacities and functioning are adequate for a decent inclusion in societal affairs).

In as far as civil society’s responsibility to be aware of how trade is connected to trade stability and stability in terms of space, Martin feels strongly that government has an important role to play in this process, while at the same time realising itself the value of political stability, despite political changes.

The importance of making knowledge available ties in with Spies’ belief that improved competence is grounded in human development. “This human quality is partly related to physical and intellectual ability, partly to skills and partly to managerial and leadership qualities. At the level of the worker skills and knowledge will dominate and at the level of management and leadership insight, understanding and wisdom (moral governance) become important. Competence is also an important factor in motivational development, for choosing well and acting well on situations, including the development of social capital, which should be seen as the cornerstone of human development.

In part, this also reminds of Nabudere’s plea for a “greater local approach”.

The economist and former director of research at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Michael Mussa, is of the opinion that the most important factors affecting economic regional integration in Africa is technology, preferences and public policy8.

MISTRA’s point of departure is the absolute importance of smooth political transition, says Martin. “We need a framework where civil organisations and government are not affected by political change. Sustainability cannot come from the state only. The existence of citizenship institutions is very crucial.”

Martin believes that it is through being accountable that active citizen participation is created, which in turn leads to ensured general stability towards these institutions. For this reason it is important for MISTRA to withstand any form of politicisation. “It is key for us to be independent but engage with the civic, private and public sectors.” They guard the independence of research projects while trying to have the greatest possible impact in terms of policy formulation by making this research available.

In accordance, Spies warns against a ‘mechanical’ process, where those affected by change is left out of the actual process. “It should also research and produce insight and understanding regarding primary drivers such as worldviews, hidden assumptions, ideologies and vested interests. It should endeavour to motivate and to also touch their hearts, emotions and aspirations. Beyond statistical and trend analysis, beyond the listing of threats and goals, beyond scenarios and beyond ‘‘development’’ plans lies the realm of the unfathomable but nevertheless creatable future. The most difficult challenge lies in discovering exciting possible futures rather than only researching ‘‘likely’’ future outcomes – which is absolutely necessary but not sufficient.”


1United Nations Economic Centre for Africa, (2011). “Assessing Regional Integration in Africa IV. Enhancing Intra-African trade.”, http://www.uneca.org/aria/aria4/index.htm
2United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, (2004). “Assessing Regional Integration in Africa I”, http://www.uneca.org/aria1/
3Prof. Dani Wadada Nabudere, (2011). “The Global Political Economy and the Future of Africa”, http://www.blackherbals.com/global_political_economy_and_the_future_of_africa.htm
4Philip H. Spies, (2011) "Sub-Saharan Africa's future is not a given", foresight, Vol. 13 Iss: 3, pp.85 - 99
5Michael Kahn, (2011) “The fall of the Wall, the rise of the BRICs and the new Scramble for Africa”, foresight, Vol. 13 Iss: 3, pp.38 – 49
6Prof. Dominick Salvatore, (2020). “Globalisation, international competitiveness and growth: advanced and emerging markets, large and small countries*”, http://freedownload.is/pdf/globalisation-international-competitiveness-and-growth-advanced-15763640.html
7Mkandawire, T. (2012) “Building the African state in the age of globalisation: The role of social compacts and lessons for South Africa”. http://www.mistra.org.za/MediaDocs/Globalisation%20and%20social%20compacts%20FINAL.pdf
8Michael Mussa as quoted by the United Nations Economic Centre for Africa, (2011). “Assessing Regional Integration in Africa IV. Enhancing Intra-African trade.”, http://www.uneca.org/aria/aria4/index.htm


Dr. Leonard Martin

Dr. Leonard Martin was born in Johannesburg, Gauteng. Due to his political activities, he was put on trial in the 1970’s and went into exile. He finally found refuge in Denmark. He completed several degrees, including a Doctorate in the Political History of Ideas and Cultural Studies at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. During the period preceding South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, he was recruited to develop the political analysis department for the Independent Electoral Commission. Most recently he served as Head of the Stakeholder Division of the Financial and Fiscal Commission of South Africa. He joined MISTRA in May 2010.



Share content with FFD

Foresight For Development - Funding for this uniquely African foresight site was generously provided by Rockefeller Foundation. Email Us | Creative Commons Deed | Terms of Conditions

Top Desktop version