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Assessing Regional Integration in Africa
Regional trading blocs are seen as the building pillars of a stronger Africa as the continent seeks to become a viable trading partner in the global economy.
An Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) report released in July 2004 says Africa is laying the groundwork for the establishment of an African Economic Community, which, like the European Union, could increase benefits that member states can derive from a larger market.
The report, Assessing Regional Integration in Africa, observes that African countries are taking concrete steps towards integrating their economies by building regional economic communities, adopting common currencies and increasing intra-regional trade. However, to make this achievable, the continent needs to accelerate links between national and regional economies.
"Africa's long-standing recognition of the needs and benefits of regional integration has spawned the proliferation of regional economies and protocols across the continent," says the preface to the 278-page report, adding: "But these have yet to be strategically consolidated.”
Africa has a total of 14 regional economic communities, considered the building blocks of the African Economic Community. Some of these are wholly within bigger, more visible regional trading blocs. They have achieved varying progress on key issues such as trade liberalisation, free movement of people and building external infrastructural links.
Of the 14 regional communities, SADC, ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union are rated among the best in terms of achieving deeper regional integration.
"To be effective, integration must be part of an overall development strategy," the report says noting that the ambitions outlined by African political leaders in the mandate of the regional economic commissions have never been matched by their capacity to deliver.
Despite the many protocols signed in Africa linking national and regional transportation, telecommunications, capital and labour mobility, regionalisation has never been given the financial and human resources to succeed while trade among the continent's countries remains low, ECA says in the report.
It says some of the regional economic communities have overlapping memberships, duplicate efforts and in the process waste limited resources. Fewer regional bodies would reduce administration costs and provide funds to improve day-to-day operations and finance projects.
To accelerate integration, ECA calls on countries to ratify and implement existing protocols, find alternative sources of financing and involve the private sector.
The report also recommends that the African Union (AU) should play a leading role in the integration process including rationalising the legal instruments and aligning them to continental objectives.
The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) should be the driving force behind initiatives such as African trunk road network and an African railroad network, says the report. (Review by Chipo Muvezwa, SARDC)
Assessing Regional Integration in Africa is available from:
SADC Today, October 2004
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