Lusaka, Friday, June 23, 2017: The implementation of the COMESA Virtual University of Regional Integration is among the key topics that will feature in 3rd COMESA Annual Research Forum that will take place from Monday to Friday 26 - 30 June 2017 in Kigali, Rwanda.

The forum will bring together leading policy research think tanks, academia, and the private sector from the 19 COMESA Member States.

Anchored under the theme: ‘Boosting Intra-African Trade through Regional Economic Communities: Perspectives from COMESA Regional Integration Programme’, the forum seeks to strengthen the participation of governments and key stakeholders in the regional integration agenda by sharing and discussing research findings.

Further, it seeks to create a common understanding on the region’s research priorities for COMESA as the largest Regional Economic Community (REC) in Africa.

It is acknowledged that RECs have continued to individually pursue integration agenda both as a development and transformative strategy whose basis is free trade, customs unions and common market within their respective jurisdictions.

“As the building blocks of the African Union, a common understanding in the regional integration agenda is thus critical,” the Director of Trade and Customs in COMESA Dr Francis Mangeni said.

In February this year, COMESA invited experts to submit abstracts for research papers on the theme and more than 60 of them were received. Out of these, 24 were accepted and the authors have been invited to present the full papers at the Forum.

The other prime topic of the Forum is the implementation of the COMESA Virtual University of Regional Integration. The teaching programme is poised to start in September this year with the admission of the pioneer students at the Kenyatta University of Kenya for a Masters of Regional Integration.

A total of 22 universities from COMESA Member States are collaborating in this programme and also participated in the review of 30 teaching modules in March this year.

The COMESA virtual university was approved in October 2016 during the 19th Heads of State Summit held in Madagascar. It is envisaged to be a specialist graduate institution for interdisciplinary research and training in regional integration conducted on a digital platform.

The launch of the Virtual University was inspired by the need to hasten the slow pace of regional integration in the COMESA region, and in the rest of the Continent. This is in addition to the evident inability of States to implement the numerous protocols, decisions and Acts due to the apparent lack of institutional and human capital and related support mechanisms.

“This region will not be the same again as we shall now have a special cadre of professionals specially trained on regional integration to move forward the integration agenda,” Dr Mangeni said.

The Kigali Forum is organized by COMESA with financial support from a $3 million grant provided by the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) to enhance the capacity of the Secretariat in economic and trade policy research and analysis. Two previous forums took place in Kampala (2015) and Nairobi in 2016.