Thursday, June 25, 2009

Conflicts hurt African integration: COMESA chief

VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe, June 5, 2009 (AFP) - Political conflicts in countries like Somalia and Madagascar hinder Africa's efforts at regional integration, the head of the continent's biggest trade bloc said Friday.

COMESA secretary general Sindiso Ngwenya hailed efforts to resolve conflicts in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where about half of the bloc's members were fighting a regional war in 1999.

"The lack of a forum for dialogue to address conflicts was a gap that was hindering our progress in economic intergration," Ngwenya told foreign ministers from COMESA's 19 members, ahead of a heads of state summit this weekend.

"We should however be mindful that as we address conflicts that besieged us for the past few years, new issues of peace and security have emerged that have a negative impact on our intergration efforts," Ngwenya said in his address.

"Such issues include piracy of the coast of Somalia and recent conflicts in Madagascar.

"These are issues that need your attention and I am pleased to inform you that the committee on peace and security which met two weeks ago in Mauritiius considered these issues."

Ngwenya said the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) was working to establish an early response system meant to nip new conflicts in the bud.

Zimbabwe's vice president Joice Mujuru said such a mechanism was needed to defuse tensions around the region.

"It is therefore important as region to enhance capacity to detect brewing conflicts so that timely interventions can be triggered before problems escalate into fully blown violent conflict," Mujuru told the meeting.

COMESA plans to launch the continent's biggest customs union this weekend, harmonising tariffs across a region that stretches from Egypt to South Africa.

COMESA comprises Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.