The need for greater regional integration


Improvements have been made in areas including trade, communications, macroeconomic polices, and transportation. Despite the gains, there are still a number of challenges facing the integration process.  Among the key issues is the complex institutional setting under which regional integration schemes have been operating. 


Regional economic communities are the building blocks for stronger integration and the eventual creation of an African Economic Community. However, these regional economic communities need to be substantially strengthened and given clearer operational guidelines in order to fulfil this huge mandate. 



For example, even though the African Union only recognises eight regional integration schemes, the continent currently has fourteen inter-governmental organisations (IGOs), working on regional integration issues, with numerous treaties and protocols governing relations among them, and between them and the member states.


This proliferation of institutions and protocols means that out of the 53 member states of the African Union (AU), 26 belong to two of the fourteen IGOs, 20 belong to three of them, and one country belongs to four. While countries may have rational explanations for belonging to more than one regional grouping, the numerous groups and memberships presents its own set of challenges.

Overlapping memberships, mandates, objectives, protocols and functions create unhealthy multiplication and duplication of efforts and misuse of the continents’ scarce resources – making these regional groupings very inefficient. 


It is creditable to note that regional integration schemes and IGOs have initiated processes of harmonising their work programmes. At the continental level, both the Abuja Treaty and the Constitutive Act of the African Union have provisions calling for the coordination and harmonisation of the policies of regional integration schemes.  However, the experience so far shows that despite strong efforts, success has been limited.


The rationale for integration is clear and compelling. A common market combining Africa’s mostly small and fragmented economies will lead to economies of scale, making African countries more competitive. This is central to the continent’s quest for robust, self-sustaining economic growth and development. Regional integration will also lead to stronger political cooperation between countries, which is essential for dealing with regional public goods such as infrastructure development, and conflict resolution and management. The Economic Community of West African States has successfully demonstrated the latter point through its intervention in the conflicts of Sierra Leone and Liberia, bringing peace and hope to millions of people.


Moving forward on Africa’s integration agenda will require sustained effort from the continent’s leadership.