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  • People to People Solidarity:civil society and deep integration in southern Africa
  • Chris Landsberg (bio)


This paper is about regional integration and civil society in southern Africa. It does not deal with the size and scope of civil society, nor does it present an inventory or audit of the number, shape and size of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), Community-based Organisations (CBOs) or other civil society actors in individual southern African countries. It is concerned with regional integration and the role of civil society in this process in southern Africa. It considers why civil society actors must seek to be involved in regional integration? The paper argues that the foundation of a strong Africa vis-à-vis the global economy will come from viable policies and strategies which favour regional integration, strong regional institutions, strong regional co-operation and integration that can move the continent towards greater degrees of regional integration and unification.

This type of deep integration provides opportunities for civil society to do advocacy, monitoring, campaigning for regional integration, regional identity and regional free movement of people, trade integration and the like. But this presupposes that civil society is explicitly interested in regional integration and cohesion, and explicitly advances this.

I specifically make the case for a model that involves information, sharing; consultation; collaboration; joint decision making; and empowerment. Information sharing serves to keep actors informed, provides transparency and builds legitimacy. Governments, and regional-integration organisations, have a responsibility to share information and decisions with the citizens of the region. Consultation refers to two-way flows of information, exchanges of views and perspectives, making inputs, garnering feedback and reactions, with governments and regional-integration entities retaining [End Page 40] the ultimate decision-making powers. Collaboration refers to joint activities where governments and regional-integration bodies invite public and civil society, stakeholders and actors to be involved in decision-making, but attempt to ensure that the views of those consulted are taken seriously. Joint decision making in turn refers to collaboration between governments and civil society actors where there is joint control over decisions made. But this presupposes that the knowledge and capacity of civil society are well developed so as to make inputs and help determine the agenda. Empowerment refers to the transfer of control of decision making, resources and skills to non-state actors to help determine policy agendas and processes. It also requires that governments and regional bodies become less skeptical and less cynical of civil society, and appreciate that they cannot govern alone, and need civil society as partners.

Having conceptualised the potential framework for civil-society participation models, we conceptualise both regional integration and unification, and regional civil society. Asante defines 'integration' as 'combining parts in a whole' (Asante 1996). This presupposes a n important point, that those which should be integrated, and in need of integration, belong together.. Bourenane (1997) offers a more precise definition of 'regional integration': it is '…a voluntary pooling of resources for a common purpose by two or more sets of partners belonging to different states. The process aims to reinforce structural interdependencies of a technical and economic sort, with positive effects on economic welfare.'

But this definition does not capture the essence of integration. Integration is transformatory, and calls for a radical approach to make one of what is split apart. Regional integration depends heavily on regional cohesion. It seeks societal integration within a region; it builds regional awareness and identity. It depends on regional inter-state co-operation and co-ordination, as well as inter-state civil society co-operation and co-ordination. But it should be understood that co-operation and co-ordination are not the same as integration and unification. It could be part of the process that will lead to regional integration and unification.

So, proper regional integration should lead to 'the emergence of a cohesive and consolidated regional unit'(Hurrell 1995); one unit, one nation such as the idea of a regional southern African nation. Regional integration and cooperation is about states agreeing to live by common norms and values, deepening co-operation amongst themselves. Regional integration is deeper and more serious than this. It is about integrating [End Page 41] markets and...


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pp. 40-62
Launched on MUSE
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