Supranational organisations and cross-national policy convergence: the case of biosafety in southern Africa

Mugwagwa, Julius Tazvishaya (2008). Supranational organisations and cross-national policy convergence: the case of biosafety in southern Africa. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis analyses existing and new impetus for cross-national regulatory systems for modern biotechnology sparked in southern Africa by the 2002/03 food aid crisis. The study examined the roles the African Union (AU), the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), who, together with other regional and international bodies have initiated processes to assist the 14-country SADC region towards cross-national similarity or convergence of biosafety systems. This case study research was guided by the three factor conceptualisation of Per Olof Busch and Helge Jorgens (2005), which proposes harmonisation, diffusion and coercive imposition as three distinct international mechanisms causing policy change and policy convergence.

Theoretical perspectives, data gathering and analysis approaches adopted an interdisciplinary and holistic approach in navigating the complex technological, regulatory and socio-political settings. Data was collected primarily using questionnaires, semistructured interviews and document review throughout the study period, and in-situ observation of processes and organisational interactions during a three-month internship at NEPAD in the middle of 2007.

Different stakeholder understandings of convergence, and fluctuating motivations and fears regarding its emergence and implementation were observed. The processes towards a transnational framework were viewed as more important than the outputs thereof. Minimal, if any convergence had occurred in entire regulatory systems, or policies, while lower level targets such as policy scopes, objectives, institutional arrangements and regulations had converged to varying extents. The three SNOs had played different roles in this, singly or collectively, particularly via ideational and epistemic influence exerted through interplay between the three mechanisms proposed by Busch and Jorgens (2005), with diffusion of practices being most prominent.

Therefore, and as observed by other researchers, the three mechanisms were not mutually exclusive, and their effect on spread of policies depended a lot on contextual factors within organisations, sectors, countries and the region. The thesis introduces the notion of layered convergence as one feasible outcome of the cross-national processes.

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