The Struggle for Africa’s Economic Integration:

Vision and Outcomes (Part One)

Vision and Outcomes (Part One) Continental picture: The Pan-African agenda pursued by Africa’s leadership since the 1950s can be described as a coin with political and economic sides. A political union, well advanced with the establishment in 1963 of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which subsequently morphed into the African Union (AU) in 2001, was considered, logically, as the pre-requisite for the economic integration of the continent. Political union and economic union were to reinforce each other. However, the empirical reality to date suggests that it is proving exceedingly more difficult to build granite pillars of economic integration across the continent than it was to establish the OAU and AU. For instance, it took close to two decades, following creation of the OAU, for African countries to agree on a common continental economic development blueprint, namely the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action, and one more decade for them to adopt the 1991 Abuja Treaty to serve as strategic roadmap for the creation of an African Economic Community (AEC). As envisioned by this Treaty, the AEC would be built over a period of 34 years (1994-2027 in six progressive implementation phases leading ultimately to a fully functioning economic union across the entire continent, with a common currency and a common market including the free movement of the factors of production such as capital, labour, goods and services. However, effective Treaty implementation was to be carried out at the level of the continent’s OAU- demarcated five regions, namely Central Africa; East Africa; North Africa; Southern Africa; and West Africa. Furthermore, the Treaty’s implementation action arms in these regions were to be the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) established or recognized by the OAU, namely: Arab Maghreb Union (AMU); Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD); Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA); East African Community (EAC); Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS); Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD); and Southern African Development Community (SADC). The major objectives of the Treaty included, for example, to promote economic, social and cultural development and the integration of African economies in order to increase economic self-reliance and promote endogenous and self-sustained development; to establish, on a continental scale, a framework for the development, mobilization and utilization of the human and material resources of Africa in order to achieve accelerated economic growth; to promote co-operation in all fields of human endeavour in order to raise the standard of living of African peoples, and enhance economic stability, foster close and peaceful relations among Member States and contribute to the progress, development and the economic integration of the Continent; and finally to coordinate and harmonize policies among existing and future economic communities in order to foster the gradual establishment of the AEC. By this vision, the AEC would be established mainly through the co-ordination, harmonization and progressive consolidation of the activities of the RECs. At present the continent counts close to 40 inter- governmental regional organizations with overlapping memberships, eight of which already mentioned above have been established by the OAU/ AU. About 15 of these focus squarely on economic integration; five are energy-based integration schemes such as the West African Power Pool (ECOWAPP); fifteen are river and lake-based organizations such as the Lake Chad Basin Commission; three are peace and security-focused, such as G5 Sahel; and only one, COMIFAC (Central African forests Commission) is focused on environmental protection issues. Outcomes to date: Although progress has been mixed so far, it must be stressed that the sheer persistent pursuit since the early 1960s, for over half a Century, of the goal of continental economic integration, notwithstanding internal and external barriers to the realization of that dream, has been no small feat by Africa’s political leadership. At a broader historical level, this dogged determination to achieve an integrated economic space across the continent should be seen as a conscious or subconscious attempt to reinstate and reinforce the numerous horizontal free trading patterns that had existed across pre-colonial Africa, but which the 19th Century European scramble for the continent had destroyed and replaced with vertical trading patterns harnessing the continent’s economies to the needs of European industry. Further, the ratification of the Abuja Treaty by practically all AU member states and the effective functioning of the RECs as the Treaty’s implementation action arms, notwithstanding their uneven progress towards the attainment of the Abuja Treaty objectives, should also be counted as yet another economic integration milestone. More concretely, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which is a continental economic development initiative adopted by the OAU in 2001, has since evolved dynamically to become the AU’s key tool, in addition to the RECs, for hastening and organizing the continental march towards an economic community similar to the European Union. In this regard, NEPAD’s Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) has been particularly active in some major sectors with potential for economic integration. For example, the PIDA priority action plan comprises 51 programmes and projects designed to address sector-specific priority infrastructure deficits in energy, transport, ICT and trans-boundary water. Additionally, although intra-African trade has hardly exceeded 10 per cent of Africa’s total trade volume in the past decade, increasing progress has nonetheless been recorded in the establishment of effectively functioning customs unions the most prominent being the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). Most RECs are implementing transport programmes that remove non-physical barriers to trade in order to strengthen transit facilitation, harmonize customs, and improve overall trade efficiency. COMESA, ECOWAS and SADC have introduced comprehensive transport facilitation programmes. Elsewhere, the RECs are using regional hydropower policy to share energy across countries and minimize costs. For example, in 1995 SADC’s 12 members created the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), and other RECs have since followed suit with trans-boundary integration of power grids such as the Eastern African and West African Power Pools. The impetus towards economic integration is boosting inter-country connectivity in information technology and communication. Some RECs, such as the Arab Maghreb Union, COMESA, ECOWAS, and SADC, have made greatest progress in that respect. ECOWAS has introduced the ECOWAS Passport, a giant step towards eliminating barriers to the cross-border movement of citizens and indeed towards promoting a common identity among ECOWAS citizens. The East African Community has also introduced a common passport to facilitate cross-border movement of its members’ nationals within the community. But all of the foregoing snapshots of progress hardly answer the question as to whether Africa remains on course to attaining the goal of an African Economic Community by the year 2027. Are all the organs or action arms operating efficiently and effectively with the bold certainty writ-large in the Abuja Treaty? If not what are the challenges? This question is addressed in the next edition in part 2 of this article.

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