The Annual COMESA Research Forum took place in Nairobi, Kenya from 27 June to 1 July 2016 with 13 Member States and 16 leading Universities from the region participating in the one week event.

This was the second Forum organized by the COMESA Secretariat under the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) funded project on enhancing the COMESA capacity on economic and trade policy analysis and research. Its theme was: Trade in Services and Trade Facilitation for Inclusive and Sustainable Industrialization in the COMESA region. The 1st Forum took place in Uganda in August 2015.

The objective of the research forum was to enhance evidence based policy decision making, contribute knowledge and build capacity and involve stakeholder contribution to regional integration. The research initiative is supported by the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF).

Researchers, scholars, policy think-tanks and other professionals from Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe participated.The five-day Forum discussed the modalities for the establishment of the COMESA Virtual University. A committee of 22 leading Universities across the 19 COMESA Member States that was formed to discuss modalities of implementing the COMESA Masters Program in regional integration came up with several recommendations that were endorsed by the Forum.

Collaborating Universities

Among them was the development of a syllabus for the Masters Degree program in regional integration. It was proposed that COMESA Secretariat should come up with criteria to determine the minimum requirements for a University to be part of the collaborating Universities for the program’s platform. Kenyatta University of Kenya was proposed to host the platform. The leading 22 Universities will be part of the collaborating universities subject to meeting the minimum criteria requirements.

The development of a Memorandum of Understanding between COMESA and the Host University/the Collaborating Universities would be developed with the launching the program proposed for October 2016 at the COMESA Heads of State Summit in Madagascar.

Eight research papers were presented at the forum covering: the Role of Trade Facilitating Infrastructure in Promoting Manufacturing Exports in the COMESA Region; the effect of Trade Facilitation Reforms on Export Performance of COMESA Member States and the Nexus between International Financial Integration and Trade in Financial Services in COMESA Region.

Others were; Trade in Services and Industrialization: Implications for the performance of the Manufacturing Sector in COMESA and the Movement of Persons in COMESA: An assessment of convergence, differences and regional contrasts.

Notable Speakers

Notable speakers that addressed the Forum included Dr. Francis Mangeni, the Director of Trade and Customs in COMESA, the Director of Internal Trade in Kenya, Dr. Jared Nyaundi, Senior Program Officer, ACBF Dr. Folasade Ayonrinde and Justice Prof.  James Otieno Odek of the Court of Appeal of Kenya. Others were Prof. Calestous Juma of Harvard Kennedy School, Mr. Patrick Kanyimbo of the African Development Bank, and Senior Research Fellow in COMESA Mr. Benedict Musengele.

Dr Mangeni stressed the critical role of trade in services which he said contributes about 50% of GDP of most economies in the region. He noted that the outcome of the research forum would contribute substantially to the stated objectives of deepening regional integration.

Dr. Nyaundi said deeper regional integration holds a lot of promise in addressing challenges of individual economies.

“The Forum affords an opportunity to contribute to policy development and interventions on regional integration and trade development,” he said “This is by putting together the distinctive thoughts on how to achieve a more integrated region to enhance economic growth and poverty reduction in Eastern and Southern Africa.”

Dr. Ayonrinde described the theme of the Forum as timely not only for economic integration and industrialization but also in the uncertain global economic space (following the Brexit and the consequences trailing it). She underscored the importance of the theme to the Regional Economic Communities, particularly as it relates to the political and economic benefits therefrom.

Prof. Odek pointed out that the region should not separate trade in services from the movement of persons since services contributed more to GDP than trade in goods.

Prof. Juma gave a key note address on the role of research in economic transformation in Africa. He said that adopting existing technology to new applications was the key towards transforming Africa.

“This calls for a strong capacity in basic research in order to effectively domesticate the existing technologies,” he said. “The potential to transform African economies lay in the informal sector, start-ups and iHubs. This potential could be maximized through identifying their needs and upgrading their operations using existing technologies.”

Further, he said there was need to redesign the agricultural education system and have agricultural oriented universities decentralized so as to offer training and extension services to the farmers in close proximity in order to reverse the fact that Africa imports 83% of its food despite having 63% of the global arable land.

Mr. Kanyimbo highlighted five priority projects (Hi-5s) for Africa that includes energy development, agriculture, infrastructure, industry and jobs creation. He said the financing of the projects was as follows; Light up & power Africa (USD12bn) Feed Africa (USD24bn) Integrate Africa (US$ 1.2 bn) Industrialize Africa (USD1.2bn) and Improve People’s life (USD1.3bn).

Mr. Musengele emphasized the critical role played by evidence-based research in regional integration and the significant impact the ACBF funded project has had in COMESA. He informed the Forum that the COMESA-ACBF project grant was for USD 3 million for a period of four years and was scheduled to close by 31 March 2017.