BANGUI, January 21, 2010—The highly anticipated 10th summit of heads of State of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), which took place January 15-17 in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR), was marked by firm decisions on governance and enhanced regional integration within the seven-nation bloc.
The revelation last year that US$25 million had been embezzled from the Bank of Central African States (BEAC) prompted member states to review CEMAC’s operations and impose sanctions where warranted.
The most unexpected decision at the end of the Bangui summit was the departure from the so-called “Fort-Lamy consensus,” an informal agreement under which Gabon was granted the privilege of naming the central bank governor. CEMAC member countries will now take turns to pick the governor of BEAC. Thus Philibert Andzembe, the last Gabonese to hold the job, was replaced by Lucas Abaga Nchama of Equatorial Guinea.
The summit also discussed at length the decision to prosecute officials suspected of involvement in the embezzlement scheme, which allegedly took place at the Paris, France office of the central bank. All have been removed from their positions while awaiting trial.
Heads of state also requested an audit of all CEMAC institutions. Going forward, such audits will be mandatory and conducted annually by the union’s auditing branch based in Chad.
Other issues related to regional integration were also discussed, particularly the upcoming inauguration in March 2010 of the regional parliament based in Equatorial Guinea, and the renewal of efforts to introduce a common CEMAC passport. The new, biometric passport is slated for circulation by the end of this quarter and will initially allow businesspeople, as well as members of government, to travel within CEMAC without a visa. The visa-free travel facility will be gradually extended to other groups of travelers within the union.
Air CEMAC, another regional project, seems to be finally on its way to becoming a reality. The new airline is scheduled to take off later this year, thanks to a partnership with South African Airways. It will be based in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo.
Consensus on Need for Enhanced Regional Integration
In many respects, the postponement of the CEMAC summit twice last year highlighted the teething pains of a regional organization for which integration has become essential.
During her recent visit to CAR and Cameroon, World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region Obiageli Ezekwesili made an impassioned plea for regional integration in Central Africa.
Ms. Ezekwesili indicated that regional integration provides better opportunities to emerge from the crises and development challenges facing countries in the region. These include a decline in foreign investments as a result of the international financial crisis; the food crisis; the isolation of economies with markets too small to prosper in the current context; and the lack of large-scale infrastructure to position the private sector as the primary engine for job creation.
Central Africa presents a paradox: despite abundant natural and mineral resources, countries in the region have some of Africa’s worst social indicators, and characterized by their poor business environments (see the Doing Business 2010 report).
Indeed despite an envious position at the heart of the Gulf of Guinea, CEMAC remains the least economically integrated region on the continent.
Data compiled by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa reveal that in 2006 trade within CEMAC represented only between 0.5% and 1% of the region’s total exchanges. In contrast, intra-community trade accounted for 5% of exchanges in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), 10% in both the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and 15% in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU).
World Bank Working Hand in Hand with CEMAC
The World Bank is financing several integration-related projects within CEMAC, including the US$215 million Central Africa Backbone project, which will enable the region to access modern facilities provided by new communication technologies.
Another large-scale Bank-funded regional project is the CEMAC Regional Transport and Transit Facilitation Project, which aims to create efficient transit corridors between Douala and Bangui on the one hand, and Douala and N’Djamena on the other.
Estimated to cost US$680 million, this project, which is vital to the development of the CEMAC region, will receive a contribution of US$201 million from beneficiary states. This commitment is a fundamental step along the path to the development of true regional integration, which is essential for the economies of the zone.
CEMAC member states are Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and São Tomé and Principe.