Comesa chief ex­ec­u­tive needs grav­i­tas and po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence


The East African - - OPINION -

The Com­mon Mar­ket for East­ern and South­ern Africa (Comesa) will ap­point a new sec­re­tary gen­eral next year, through a com­pet­i­tive process. This is af­ter the ex­piry of the ten­ure of the cur­rent chief ex­ec­u­tive. With 19 coun­tries, a geographical size of 11.6 mil­lion square kilo­me­tres, a com­bined GDP of $755 bil­lion and a pop­u­la­tion of 520 mil­lion, the bloc makes up a third of Africa and is the largest re­gional eco­nomic bloc on the con­ti­nent. It has enor­mous po­ten­tial, for in­stance $82.4 bil­lion in unutilised in­tra-comesa trade op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The new sec­re­tary gen­eral will find an or­gan­i­sa­tion that has a ro­bust trade frame­work that pro­motes trans­parency, pre­dictabil­ity and plan­ning; as well as pol­icy and reg­u­la­tory frame­works in ar­eas of in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, sur­face and air trans­port, en­ergy, agri­cul­ture, in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy. Nat­u­rally though, as with many in­sti­tu­tions, he or she will find chal­lenges to mop up, es­pe­cially low own­er­ship by the coun­tries, per­son­nel and re­cruit­ment man­age­ment, fi­nan­cial stew­ard­ship and re­source mo­bil­i­sa­tion. De­pend­ing on the per­son’s level of am­bi­tion, they might wish to po­si­tion Comesa as a base in a tech­nol­ogy and fi­nancedriven global econ­omy. Grav­i­tas and po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence across the re­gion, sound an­a­lyt­ics, courage, fair play, pru­dence, and com­plex prob­lem solv­ing skills will there­fore be handy. A per­son pos­sess­ing this sort of cap­i­tal is usu­ally a for­mer head of gov­ern­ment, min­is­ter or chief ex­ec­u­tive who is savvy in in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal ev­i­dence-based pol­icy mak­ing and demon­stra­ble de­vel­op­ment prac­tice.

Enor­mous pow­ers

The Comesa Treaty gives the sec­re­tary gen­eral enor­mous pow­ers, which can be put to good use. He or she has pow­ers to con­vene high level and tech­ni­cal meet­ings of the 19 coun­tries, and is chief ex­ec­u­tive of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The next chief ex­ec­u­tive has an op­por­tu­nity to put the body on a new foot­ing. De­vel­op­ment think­ing has gone through seis­mic changes since the 1990s when the or­gan­i­sa­tion was formed. “Minds not mines” sums up th­ese changes. It will be ap­pro­pri­ate to vi­sion Comesa as a tech­nol­ogy and fi­nan­cial base in a sin­gle mar­ket, and align this goal with the global sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals to be achieved over the next 12 or so years by 2030. Global knowl­edge dou­bles ev­ery 12 months. A mech­a­nism for sys­tem­at­i­cally har­ness­ing, lo­cal­is­ing and com­mer­cial­is­ing skills and in­no­va­tion from around the world, as well as pa­tient cap­i­tal, could as­sist achieve­ment of this vi­sion.

Lack of sus­tain­able ad­e­quate re­sources has slowed down the or­gan­i­sa­tion. Con­tri­bu­tions from mem­ber states un­der a for­mula have not yielded enough, leav­ing a huge gap for donor de­pen­dence. At the same time, Comesa in­sti­tu­tions have been fi­nan­cially suc­cess­ful and could be given the op­por­tu­nity to chip in through con­tribut­ing a per­cent­age of their rev­enues.

This will re­quire mo­bil­is­ing th­ese in­sti­tu­tions to this ef­fort. Other in­no­va­tive sources of rev­enue could in­clude es­tab­lish­ing a re­gional e-mar­ket with a small charge on transactions. An equiv­a­lent of a Comesa e-bay, Ama­zon or Alibaba would rev­o­lu­tionise trade and re­source mo­bil­i­sa­tion in the re­gion, while also greatly sup­port­ing SMES to reach a global mar­ket.

For­tu­nately, Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame has pro­posed some re­forms for the African Union, now be­ing im­ple­mented.

He has called for a lean and ef­fi­cient sec­re­tariat, fo­cussing on a few clear pri­or­i­ties and elim­i­nat­ing bu­reau­cracy, as well as re­sources mo­bil­i­sa­tion through con­tri­bu­tion of a small per­cent­age charged on trade taxes. Th­ese pro­pos­als form a tem­plate for Africa’s re­gional or­gan­i­sa­tions, which should now work more co­her­ently with the African Union.

Busi­ness pro­cesses to achieve the vi­sion and utilise re­sources will be re­quired. Staff for the sec­re­tariat should be in­di­vid­u­als who love their job “so they never have to work an­other day” as Con­fu­cius ad­vised. A pre­mium should be put on com­plex prob­lem solv­ing and an­a­lyt­ics. Apart from pro­fes­sion­al­ism, and while hav­ing clear re­port­ing struc­tures and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, a cul­ture of team work and psy­cho­log­i­cal safety should mould the whole sec­re­tariat into a joy­ful ser­vice pro­vided by pas­sion­ate, smart and en­er­getic in­di­vid­u­als.

The new sec­re­tary gen­eral will need to de­ci­sively address peren­nial chal­lenges that choke the or­gan­i­sa­tion, aris­ing from wan­ing own­er­ship by mem­ber states that ex­plains low im­ple­men­ta­tion of key pro­grammes and donor de­pen­dence, as well as ac­ri­mo­nious re­cruit­ment and fi­nan­cial man­age­ment squab­bles that have char­ac­terised a number of high level meet­ings.

In con­clu­sion, Comesa needs good lead­ers to step for­ward. The new chief ex­ec­u­tive should have clout and skills to re­po­si­tion the or­gan­i­sa­tion for it to be a force for good in the world, cre­at­ing peace and pros­per­ity. Based on the prin­ci­ple of sub­lim­ity, best prac­tices at na­tional level should in­form re­gional level pro­cesses and out­comes.

A per­son pos­sess­ing this sort of cap­i­tal is usu­ally a for­mer head of gov­ern­ment, min­is­ter or pol­icy savvy chief ex­ec­u­tive.

Fran­cis Mangeni is di­rec­tor of Trade and Cus­toms at Comesa

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