Regional integration in Africa

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More than 50 years have passed since the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was created in Addis Ababa on 25 May 1963. Yet, despite the many charters signed, the numerous meetings called, and the countless strategic frameworks drawn up on paper, regional integration has led to disappointing outcomes.

In the newly published Routledge Handbook of African Development edited by Tony Binns, Kenneth Lynch and Etienne Nel, I discuss the many factors that explain why progress made towards effective regional integration has been slow on the continent.

The chapter focuses particularly on the gap between regional integration as an institutional project (also known as regionalism) and regional integration as an everyday reality (regionalisation).

Generally speaking, regional integration in Africa has achieved the highest objectives when institutions have targeted very specific areas, such as the environment, have been heavily supported by external donors and member states, and have brought together countries that share a similar currency, such as the CFA franc.

Progress toward regional integration in Africa has been slow for several reasons. In a patrimonial system that nurtures inter-personal relations, many countries have few incentives to effectively engage in deeper institutional integration with their neighbors.

Regional integration also has a disappointing record due to the large number of organisations that exist with similar or competing purposes. Nearly all African states belong to multiple regional groupings, which lead to high co-ordination costs, competition between policies, and confusion among international donors.

Finally, regional integration has been greatly affected by political crises and conflicts, as in the Great Lakes region or the Horn.

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