Africa’s current integration landscape contains an array of regional economic communities, including eight recognized as the building blocks of the African Union. They are: Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), 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).
Other groupings include the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa, West African Economic and Monetary Union, International Conference on The Great Lakes Region, Indian Ocean Commission, Mano River Union, Senegal River Basin Development Authority, and the Southern African Customs Union
Africa’s commitment to regionalism was part and parcel of the broader aspiration of continental integration, a vision that led to the creation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. African regionalism has been a means of collective self-reliance or strategy for economic transformation and development framework.
Indeed, a number of Africa’s founding fathers, like Kwame Nkrumah, had expressed willingness to delay the independence of their own countries if regionalism would help forge more integrated regional economies with their neighbours on achieving independence. They feared, rightly, that if countries were allowed to go it alone the ‘temptations of nationhood ‘would soon take over and the goals of economic and political integration would become elusive. But that was over 56 years ago.
The recent transformation of the OAU into the African Union (AU) has significantly strengthened the movement towards the goal of Pan-African political and economic union. However, the new setup at the continental level leads to the question of how the regional and sub-regional initiatives and the AU can become mutually reinforcing.
But what exactly are the Regional Economic Communities (RECs)?
Regional economic integration — allowing the free movement of goods, services, people and capital between national markets — has been a key aspiration of African countries since the achievement of independence some 50 plus years ago. RECs in Africa group together individual countries in subregions for the purposes of achieving greater economic integration. In reality they are the ‘building blocks’ of the AU and are also central to the strategy for implementing the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
From its establishment in 1963, the OAU identified the need for the economic integration of the continent as a prerequisite for economic development. The 1980 Lagos Plan of Action for the Development of Africa, followed by the 1991 treaty to establish the African Economic Community (also referred to as the Abuja Treaty), proposed the creation of regional economic communities (RECs) as the basis for African integration, with a timetable for regional and then continental integration to follow. The Treaty provides for the African Economic Community to be set up through a gradual process, in 6 stages over 34 years, i.e. by 2028.
Article 88 of the Abuja Treaty states that the foundation of the African Economic Community is the progressive integration of the activities of the RECs, with the establishment of full continental economic integration as the final objective towards which the activities of existing and future RECs must be geared. A Protocol on Relations between the AEC and the RECs entered into force on 25 February 1998.
Want to know more about the AEC and the Recs? Click here