The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, is a preferential trading area with nineteen member states stretching from Libya to Zimbabwe. COMESA was formed in December 1994, replacing a Preferential Trade Area which had existed since 1981. Nine of the member states formed a free trade area in 2000, with Rwanda and Burundi joining the FTA in 2004 and the Comoros and Libya in 2006. COMESA is one of the pillars of the African Economic Community.
In 2008, COMESA agreed to an expanded free-trade zone including members of two other African trade blocs, the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). COMESA has also mooted the idea of a single currency, a move which will make the trading bloc a pacesetter on financial and economic consolidation on the African Continent. Undeniably, COMESA is very important to the development of member states as well as the African continent as a whole when it comes to issues of trade and investment.
However, over the week end, the body handed over the chairmanship of the bloc to Zimbabwean long time president, Robert Mugabe. Given the ambitions of COMESA, Zimbabwe is a sour thorn in the flesh of the bloc at the moment. A decade of economic mismanagement and a disgraceful human rights record have been the cornerstone of the nation that has taken over the cahirmanship of the bloc. Presently Zimbabwe has disbanded the use of its own currency, and although once touted as the model African economy, the country is teethering on the verge of collapse. The education system has broken down whilst health and health care systems are basically in the intensive care unit. Critics have put the blame squarely on the man who has taken over the chairmanship.
Given the seemingly noble intentions of the bloc, it boggles the mind as to whether this rotational chairmanship expresses the ambitions of the body or not. The Zimbabwean leader is known for telling anyone who opposes his view to "go to hell" and his economic management is highly questionable. It must be noted that COMESA delayed handing over this chairmanship to him for over a year because of the legitimacy crises over his controversial election last year.
My humble suggestion is that, these regional trading blocs must show their unity of purpose by making it a condition that the chairmanship is assumed by a leader who furthers the cause of the bloc. I would boldly suggest that rather than make the chairmanship rotate through some nations that are a drag on the body, the chairmanship should be assumed by a leader whose nation tops the GDP of all other member states during the tenure of any incumbent. It is time we take bold steps in making sure some of these well meaning bodies act as they preach.
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