YAOUNDE - Central African ministers in charge of economic integration have drawn up a program to eventually merge the regions two economic blocks -- the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), and the Economic Community of Central African states (ECCAS). The ministers say the two structures are getting too expensive to run and their conflicting roles make integration difficult. The result is that the region has remained one of the poorest in the world despite its plentiful natural resources.
Dr. Leon Modubu Konande, political analyst at CEMAC, said the rivalry now hurts ECCAS, created 34 years ago to reduce inequalities and poverty in Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Cameroon, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, and Sao Tome and Principe. CEMAC was created for the same purpose in 1999 by Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea.
"ECCAS cannot organize a meeting inviting ten countries and CEMAC organizes the same meeting with the same objective inviting six countries. It is not normal. At central Africa all the countries are very rich, but we don't have a common integration process," said Konande.
Emile Ahohe, director of the Central African regional office of the Economic Commission for Africa, said such conflicts have caused central African states to fail to achieve their main goal of improving the living conditions of their people.
"They need to have one common trade scheme rather than two in the sub region. If you take the issue of macroeconomic convergence, there has to be one scheme for convergence. If you take the issue of free movement of people there has to be one harmonized scheme between CEMAC and ECCAS," said Ahohe.
Cameroon's Minister of the Economy, Emmanuel Nganou Djoumessi, said the goal of a functioning common market and customs union remains distant and that is the reason why millions of people are mired in poverty. He said that despite the region's potential, economic growth was barely 3 percent last year instead of the 5.2 percent forecast, and even then, the growth hardly trickles down to the people.
"We are having two regional commissions in central Africa, we are working to have only one. We have already discussed the issue of moving easily from one country to the other, we have also discussed the issue of having common infrastructure in our sub region. So the ministerial council discussed what kind of issues we can convey to our heads of state,” to eventually merge the two organs, said Djoumessi.
Ministers in charge of integration who met in Cameroon last weekend agreed to propose a plan to eventually merge the economic structures, but for now, they have prepared a blueprint to coordinate activities in the areas of trade and the free circulation of people and goods so that the region will not remain one of the poorest in the world.
Currently in the region, 70 percent of the 120 million people are living on less than $1 a day while 30 percent of the population suffers from hunger in the midst of plenty.