An Evaluation of the Communication Strategies Used By The COMESA Public Relations Unit To Disseminate Information About the Comesa Customs Union to Cross Border Traders in Selected Comesa Member States

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Kakuwa, Bridget Ndalela
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The world has witnessed unprecedented formation of trading blocks, involving both developed and developing countries. One such trading block is the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) which has a membership of nineteen states. The trading blocks are said not only to enhance trade but also to enlarge the market size of a particular trading block. These trading blocks pursue what is commonly known as regional integration which is simply the process in which states countries enter into regional agreements in order to enhance regional cooperation through regional institutions and rules. The main aim of regional integration is to improve the living standards of participating countries. Regional integration undergoes different stages of which COMESA has now reached the third stage of regional integration known as Customs Union. A Customs Union is simply a merger of two or more customs territories .It involves the linking together of two or more economies regardless of geographical proximity through the removal of barriers such as tariffs and immigration controls. COMESA launched its customs union on 7th June 2009. The launch of the COMESA Customs Union has provided the impetus for this study. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of the communication strategies which were used by the COMESA Public Relations Unit to disseminate information about the COMESA Customs Union to cross border traders in selected COMESA member states. The study used the triangulated approach of qualitative and quantitative approach for data collection and analysis. The results revealed that information about the COMESA CU was not adequately disseminated to cross border traders. The member states sampled revealed that cross border traders are ignorant about the COMESA CU. There was no explicit communication strategy used to disseminate information to the target audience, furthermore the target audience was not clearly defined thus making information dissemination unfruitful.The participative approach of communication which is encouraged when creating awareness about an innovation (in this case COMESA CU) was totally neglected. The theory of innovation adoption propagated by Rogers (1983) posits that if an innovation is not known, few or no one at all will adopt the innovation. Despite the COMESA PR unit‘s sole existence being to disseminate information, little strides were taken to ensure effective dissemination of information about the COMESA CU to the intended audience. The development is saddening bearing in mind that COMESA is still undergoing many stages in pursuant of deepening regional integration agenda such as common market followed by economic and monetary union and ultimately economic integration. These stages need to be communicated effectively to member states in order for them to embrace them. COMESA programs are very important and useful for the economic growth of member states; therefore, people have the right to be effectively informed about their happenings.
International Trade , COMESA---Zambia