The seventh iteration of the report, ‘Assessing Regional Integration in Africa’, which was launched in early April during the Africa Development Week in Ethiopia, highlights the dynamic interaction between regional integration, innovation and competitiveness. The report notes how bringing networks of people, institutions and markets together, through regional integration, creates cross-pollination of ideas and experiences that spur innovation and contribute to competitiveness within economic blocs.
The report, a joint publication by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Union Commission (AUC) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), examines the prospects for harnessing the three elements within the framework of Africa's normative regional integration and the broader context of development policy and strategy in Africa.
A full chapter in the report is dedicated to describing the lessons on regional integration, innovation and competitiveness that Africa can draw from experiences in India and the South East Asian nations.
Pointing out that India’s experiences in expanding tertiary education could be emulated in the African context, the report adds that advances in Indian higher education led to generating a human capital base with a highly developed STEM expertise that provided the country with a competitive edge.
Although the Indian competitiveness initially resulted in a ‘brain drain’, in the interconnected world of the 21st century this is increasingly becoming a brain gain. The report point out that though the African diaspora is also connected to its homeland and already contributes to science, technology and innovation trends on the continent, a key challenge is to create an Africa-wide initiative to better tap this resource.
The report suggests that besides establishing affordable regional institutes of excellence for higher education in science and technology, African countries should also consider regional innovation funds that can pool financial and human resources.
Pointing to Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a regional integration scheme that has evolved in response to specific needs and market forces rather than by any grand design, the report says there are lessons that Africa could learn from ASEAN. The minimalist or ‘soft approach’ to regional integration shown by ASEAN, with its model of country-level implementation of regional policies and action plans, rather than regional frameworks, is something that African nations could consider in their regional integration drives.