Inching toward Integration

AuthorCarlos Lopes

Inching toward Integration Finance & Development, June 2016, Vol. 53, No. 2

Carlos Lopes

A new index allows African countries to see how their regional integration efforts stack up

It costs more to move a container from Kenya to Burundi than from Belgium or the United Kingdom to Kenya. Twenty percent of Africa’s international infrastructure networks, such as the Trans-African Highway network, are impassable. Flight connectivity is the lowest in the world and centered on only about 328 hubs for a land mass of around 1.7 million square miles, making it time consuming and costly to travel between African countries (United Nations Statistics Division, 2016).

Although the pan-African ideal has been part of the continent’s modern history since the struggles for independence in European-ruled African territories in the 1950s and 60s, African leaders never succeeded in translating this ideal into political capital. Attempts at real integration have so far yielded only mixed results.

A series of initiatives dating to 1980—the Lagos Plan of Action, the Abuja Treaty, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the more recent Agenda 2063—were each heralded as the economic response to Africa’s need for a new, more interconnected future. Why is it proving to be so painfully difficult to implement this vision of a truly integrated continent?

Broader perspective neededPart of the response lies in the need for Africa’s regional integration agenda to move beyond a focus on trade alone. There is a case to be made for a much broader perspective. Just as important as the variety of what is on offer at the local market is how easily citizens move between countries, where individuals travel for leisure or for work, how cost-effective telecommunications are, where people choose to study or look for a job, and even how they transfer money to their family or get start-up capital for a business.

Yet few policymakers focus on this bigger picture when considering policies to boost integration.

The continent’s regional economic communities are one tangible sign of progress on integration. Regional economic communities are the building blocks of the African Economic Community established by the 1991 Abuja Treaty, which provides the overarching framework for continental economic integration.

These country groups include the Arab Maghreb Union and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States in the north, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the west, the East African Community (EAC) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in the east, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in the south, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in the southeast, and the Economic Community of Central African States in the center.

The regional economic communities are taking...

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