The history of the integration of the African continent first begun to rise and shine in the mid of 19th century when people of African descent from the western hemisphere of the earth spearheaded a great movement called Pan-Africanism which was initially based on cultural and political manifestations but latter on envisioned into an ideology of united states of Africa.
The wind of change of such noble struggle that started from the diaspora has blown on the African Soil for the first time in 1940s. The agents who indoctrinated pan-Africanism ideals in the native African mindsets were the students of Comrade Du Bois and other Harlem renaissance writers. Such iconic patriots, heroes and heroines, the great sons and daughters of this continent took the lead by setting up an agenda of free and united Africa. Among them were senghor and Ce’saire of Senegal, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.
With the prior achievements of independence by 32 African nation states has paved the way the formation of the organization of the African union (OAU) in 1963, which had afterwards transformed into the African Union (AU) of today. In this context, we can draw a conclusion by saying that the Pan-Africanism phenomena and the evolution of the African Union has built a strong foundation for the 21st century integration developments in Africa.
Economic commission for Africa (ECA), which was being established by the Economic and Social council of the United Nations (UN) in 1958 as one of the UN’S five regional commissions has played a vital role in the early regional integration of the continent for the sole purpose of economic development. Lagos plan of Action (LPA) was an initiative promoted by ECA and launched by the former Organization of the African Union (OAU) in 1980, which the current integration arrangements of Africa is rooted.
Through this plan West Africa was served by the Economic Community of West African states (ECOWAS). A preferential Trade Area (PTA) was initialized in 1981 in order to connect the countries of east and Southern Africa; this very institution was succeeded in 1993 by the common market for Eastern and Southern Africa(COMESA). In central Africa, the Economic community of central African states (ECCAS) was approved in 1983 but remains to be fully ratified. In North Africa, Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) was formed.
Beyond Lagos plan of Action, several other regional economic communities were generated in the move like the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), the Economic and Monetary Union of Central Africa(CEMAC), The Southern African Development Community(SADC), East African Community(EAC), Intergovernmental Authority for Development(IGAD) and etc.
The regional integration in Africa has been put a lot of efforts by international governmental organizations like United Nations, European Union and the African Union its self but such efforts remain un-yielded and illusive. There are a number of hinders which the system and the process have faced along the way.
The African continent has being greatly affected by the economic crisis that swept much of the African countries in the late 1970s and early 1980s; which caused the continent to run off tracks of integration. Due to high tariffs and trade barriers, the commerce between African countries decreased.
Institutional weaknesses fueled by the existence of many organizations with unnecessary overlaps have interrupted commitment and the focus of the member states on a certain regional economic community. Inter- conflict between African states have also lowered the processes of integrated Africa. The dependence and loyalty of many African countries on their former colonies have revised and challenged a viable regional integration. Lack of private sector participation and support in the regional organizations, the initiative has only given a platform to the public sector; which has automatically violated the principle of inclusiveness.
Weak nation-states and opposition without national agenda that threatens sovereignty of their own motherland hampered the existence of integrated continent. Market liberalization policies that opened African markets has brought uncompetitive local manufactures that have tempted a viral economic growth in the continent. Low foreign trade compared to other regions in the world has led the African continent to realize intra- regional trade failures.
To have an integrated and prosperous Africa the obstacles of the regionalism must be addressed systematically. For a common market to function overlapping and competing groups, should concentrate and show their commitment on the relevant organizations for their development. Promoting peace and stability in the relative regions of the continent can foster an integrated market. The involvement of the private sector and most specially the civil society may also increase the effectiveness and the efficiency of regionalism in Africa.
Whenever integration comes on board conflicts will arise, so the continent has to setup some dispute settlement mechanisms. In the regional economic communities, some weak member states are not able to compete economically with the strong ones, so in this context, the African continent has to put in place some instruments and policies towards economic disparities.
When it comes to economic integration, the Regional Economic Communities (REC) has achieved some fundamental doctrine of creating a common market. For example in the East Africa community (EAC), the member countries have reached an agreement of free movement of people and goods. Another success story of the African integration happened in 2000 when the tariffs of the goods produced from Union economique et Monetaire Ouest-Africaine(UEMOA) were reduced to zero. Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) member states have also created a free trade Area in August 2000. The journey of politically and economically integrated Africa is just a fresh; we still have a long way to go. As Comrade Samora machel said “the struggle continues” (Aluta Continua).
This blog is contributed by Yusuf Hassan Abgaalow.
Yusuf is a Community mobilizer, peace initiator, Somali academician and senior diplomat.
Graduate of PAM & MIRD and student of security studies and Criminology. Inspiring writer and Pan-Africanist. He is also the Former president of UNAU.