There are many forms of socio-economic integration taking shape in the world today, but two that are of remarkable importance and relevance are not fully utilised by Africa.
The first is the most common that has to do with country to country or country to continent, and vice versa. There are plenty of examples in this category, among them the East African Community (EAC), Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), European Union, Common Market of the South (Mercusur) in Latin America and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Far East Asia and Pacific, to mention but a few.
This form of integration is also found between Africa and Asian nations including India, China and Japan, and entails links between the African continent and those countries in the areas of trade, the economy, technology and cultural relations.
Pretty much the same applies to the West, with Africa having relations with the US through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), with Europe through Everything But Arms (EBA) and Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).
These forms of cooperation, irrespective of whether they are economic, social or political, can at best be grouped at one level in the sense that they are attempts at integration of yesteryear and as such are being overtaken by new developments.
But there are new forms of integration of capital, countries and peoples which Africa has not even thought of. This is the integration of continents. Under this new concept we have European and Asian capital and peoples merging, while the far apart sub-continent in the Arab world is cooperating with Latin America.
Last week in Vientiane, Laos, Europe and Asia inked agreements at parliamentary level on ‘Ensuring Food Security in the Current Situation of Global Climate Change’, ‘Strengthening the Asia-Europe Partnership in Public Debt for Sustainable Development’ and ‘Promoting Asia-Europe Partnership in Disaster Management including Social Participation’ under what is dubbed ASEP-7.
This is a clear example of the new forms of integration that Africa has not attempted to focus on.
That aside, Africa is still to awaken from slumber as Arab countries, through the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), bypass it and engage Latin America in working with Mercusur for an expanded integration.
In their meeting earlier this week in Lima, Peru, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala told the Arab nations that Latin America has a lot of economic and trade opportunities which they could explore in their pursuit for development.
Known as ASPA in Spanish, the bi-regional body is meant to promote political, economic and cultural relations between South America and the Arab world.
Back to Africa, serious socio-economic integration has concentrated more on the exotic rather than the esoteric world, the introvert rather than the extrovert and the internal rather than the external.
As has often happened when it comes to deal with the external, our continent has been on the recessive side. This is the case with pacts such as EPA which, in the absence of parliamentary mechanisms such as ASEP, sees Africa end up an out and out loser.
Africa must urgently change tack and have a firmer grip on the reins of its future development or it will be too late.