Lack of Communication and Failure of the Integration Processes in Central Africa

There is a striking paradox between the ambitious nature of the integration processes in Central Africa and their persistent procrastination over decades of implementation. Whether we are talking about the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) or the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the aim is to unite the people of these sub-regions around common policies in order to pool efforts to ensure the socio-economic development of the member states. However, these lofty ambitions are struggling to be put into practice, with the institutional actors within the integration bodies failing to provide any real political or administrative impetus to achieve the objectives set.

Literature on experiences of regional integration in Central Africa reveals a number of reasons for the failure of these processes, be they political, economic, administrative, financial, or even socio-cultural. Among this host of obstacles, not enough emphasis has been placed on analyzing communication as a tool for leveraging the integration process in Central Africa. However, recent examples show that communication is a powerful instrument on which heads of state can rely to overcome national egoism and overcome the difficulties that hamper the implementation of integration projects.

The latest example is the diplomatic communication initiated by the Cameroonian authorities to defuse the early stages of a growing crisis in its relations with Chad, two states that are nonetheless interdependent on a socio-political and economic level. A few months earlier, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda were on the brink of a military confrontation. The leaders of these two states engaged in intense political communication, even if the results were less glowing than those recorded in the diplomatic crisis between Chad and Cameroon.

To better understand the impact of communication on regional integration, it is important to note with François Verrières that communication in diplomatic relations “makes it possible to avoid errors of analysis or interpretation and can prevent a political authority from blurting out something that could have consequences that had not been desired, envisaged, wished for or foreseen” (“Communiquer la diplomatie”, in Revue Hermès, 2018, p. 25).

It is part of the negotiation and information functions that diplomats must perform to prevent crises in the relationship between their states and friendly states. In this regard, it seems clear that integration agencies and institutions are forums where state representatives discuss and reach compromises on issues relating to regional integration.

However, even if these meetings provide an opportunity to deliberate on the texts and decisions of the integration bodies, they are far from overcoming the resistance often observed during their implementation. Indeed, the representatives of the Member States bring their own demands and claims to the table in institutions where communication is highly regulated by carefully pre-established precedence and procedures.

Generally speaking, the positions to be defended are agreed upon in advance and do not vary much during working sessions. In other words, communication within the integration bodies guarantees a seeming consensus that cannot be reconciled with the interests of certain Member States.

While traditional diplomacy should come into play to remove the stumbling blocks in relations between States of the same community, leaders prefer to withdraw and favor attitudes of mistrust, xenophobia, and breach of community commitments. Traditional diplomacy, reputed to be slow and procedural, is no longer appropriate in a digitalize world where information is instantaneous and democratized. It is important to institute new models of diplomatic communication that are better adapted to the current context of global governance.

If Central Africa is to complete its integration process, it seems essential to step up diplomatic communication on integration issues beyond the Community institutions and bodies. In this regard, the states must increase the number of permanent exchange forums. The joint bilateral cooperation commission that Central African states first experimented with in the 60s and 70s deserves to be revived. Its aim is to maintain, improve and strengthen fraternal ties and the spirit of understanding and cooperation between two member countries in all areas of common interest.

A joint commission is an institutional framework whose purpose is to establish better monitoring of cooperative relations. The advantage of this commission is that it breaks away from the monopoly of official diplomats in inter-state dialogue to include representatives of civil society.

It no longer seems acceptable that new information and communication technologies should not be used to intensify communication aimed at strengthening the regional integration process. Videoconferencing eliminates distances and saves time, resources, and energy in the search for solutions to integration problems. In this era of easy access to information, diplomatic communication can also use the channel of social networks to persuade the people of Central Africa of the benefits of free movement and the need to mutualize the policies and resources required to achieve the objectives of sub-regional integration.

Ultimately, the Central African states must give new impetus to communication in their diplomatic relations if they wish to remove the obstacles holding back the completion of sub-regional integration. This impetus will undoubtedly come through informal channels that are heavily dependent on new information and communication technologies.

Theophile-Nguimfack
Dr. Théophile NGUIMFACK VOUFO
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Holder of a PhD/Ph.D in Public Law, option Public Finance, Dr. Nguimfack is currently Lecturer at the Faculty of Legal and Political Sciences of the University of Dschang.

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