In a bid to hasten the slow pace of regional integration in Eastern and Southern Africa, the first cohort of students of a virtual university focused on the study of regional integration are to be admitted in September.
A specialist graduate institution for research and training in regional integration, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, or COMESA, Virtual University of Regional Integration will be hosted by Kenyatta University in Kenya in collaboration with 22 other universities in the region. As a start, it will offer a collaborative masters degree programme in regional integration, with the aim of establishing a fully-fledged university in the longer term.
The COMESA is a free trade area with 19 member states. The rollout of the university was discussed at the third COMESA Annual Research Forum, which took place in Kigali, Rwanda late last month. The forum brought together leading policy research think tanks, academia, and the private sector from member states.
According to Professor Nelson Wawire of Kenyatta University, the masters programme has been designed for officials in government and the private sector dealing with trade, integration and cooperation issues. It is also intended to bring together world class academics, researchers and practitioners from leading institutions around the world through an e-learning platform
Lack of capacity
“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,” said Wawire.
According to Dr Kipyego Cheluget, assistant secretary-general of COMESA, a key objective of the programme is to provide policy and practical training on regional integration, giving students practical skills to facilitate trade negotiations and the entire process of integration in the COMESA region.
“The institution is expected to extend access to research opportunities and training in regional integration within the COMESA region and in the continent by promoting and enhancing the generation of research relating to regional integration,” said Cheluget, adding that it will also facilitate attitude change among officials involved in the day-to-day management of integration processes.
A memorandum of understanding has been concluded between the COMESA secretariat and 22 collaborating universities in the region. In addition, the syllabi for the courses as well as the learning modules have been developed by selected experts from the collaborating universities and have been approved by the various universities.
Participating universities include Cairo University, Catholic University of Eastern Africa (Kenya), Center for Studies and Research of Djibouti, College of Business and Economics (Eritrea), Institut Supérieur de Gestion des Entreprises (Burundi), University of Seychelles, Kenyatta University, Kyambogo University (Uganda), Maasai Mara University (Kenya), Makerere University (Uganda) and the Open University of Mauritius.
Others are the University of Technology (Mauritius), Uganda Martyrs University, University of Antananarivo (Madagascar), University of Burundi, University of Kinshasa (DRC), University of Malawi, University of Mauritius, University of Nairobi (Kenya), University of Swaziland, University of Zambia and University of Zimbabwe.
Identification of the universities followed two research fora and working sessions of a committee of universities organised under the African Capacity Building Foundation-funded project.
The launch of COMESA Virtual University was approved in October 2016 during the 19th heads of state summit held in Madagascar, following the decision in 2010 by the COMESA Council of Ministers to establish the university in recognition of the importance of capacity building for regional integration in government, the private sector and academia.
In March, 20 academic experts began a five day review in Lusaka, Zambia of 29 learning modules that have been developed for the programme. The modules include 10 core units and 19 electives.
Wawire said that the syllabus to guide the institution has already been developed by the participating universities and was only awaiting approval by his university senate.
COMESA Director of Trade and Customs Dr Francis Mangeni said the review of the modules is the last preparatory step before the commencement of the programme.
“This region will not be the same again as we shall now have a special cadre of professionals specially trained in regional integration to move the integration agenda forward,” Mangeni said.
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