Case Study: African Regionalism

Although most states in Africa are committed to regionalism as part of the solution to their profound economic, political and social problems, the advance of regional integration has been hampered by the combined impact of poverty, political instability, border disputes and political and economic differences amongst African countries.



Early experiments in regionalism in Africa emerged out of the politics of anti-colonialism, and were often based on pre-existing colonial arrangements. The French West African Federation was thus transformed, after independence, into the West African Economic and Monetary Union. In the case of the Southern African Customs Union, which was created in 1910 and claims to be the earliest customs union ever established, regional bodies created in the colonial period survived in a reinvented form once independence had been achieved. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) was founded in 1992, as the successor to an earlier nine-member body that had been formed in 1980 to promote economic cooperation amongst southern African states and reduce their dependence on apartheid-era South Africa. Having expanded to include all 15 southern African states (South Africa, for instance, joined in 1995), SADC is committed both to deepening economic integration and to extending economic integration into political and security areas. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was postcolonial Africa’s first continent-wide association of independent states. Founded by thirty-two countries on May 25, 1963, and based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it became operational on September 13, 1963, when the OAU Charter, its basic constitutional document, entered into force. The OAU’s membership eventually encompassed all of Africa’s fifty-three states, with the exception of Morocco, which withdrew in 1984 to protest the admission of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic, or Western Sahara. The OAU was dissolved in 2002, when it was replaced by the African Union. The two most significant examples of regionalism in Africa are nevertheless the African Union (AU), which came into being in 2002 as a replacement for the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The AU constitution, modelled on that of the EU, envisages a much more ambitious organization than its predecessor. The OAU had been created in 1963 with the intention of ending colonialism and supporting political liberation. Its agenda subsequently broadened through initiatives such as the establishment in 1993 of the African Economic Community, and agreement in 2001 on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), The New Partnership for Africa's Development is an economic development program of the African Union. NEPAD was adopted at the 37th session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government in July 2001 in Lusaka, Zambia is a programme of measures designed to alleviate poverty and promote constructive engagement with globalization.

However, these economic initiatives have brought few concrete benefits, in part because of continuing and deep disagreements about the extent to which Africa should adopt an orthodox, market-orientated approach to development. Uncertainty about whether the AU should abandon its anti-western rhetoric and build partnerships with the West on matters such as dealing with war crimes and genocide have also limited the AU’s ability to exercise leadership in Africa over issues such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law. ECOWAS is the largest sub-regional organization established in Africa, comprising 16 states with a combined population of nearly 200 million. However, its impact on the economic performance of member states has been negligible, due to factors such as political instability and widespread corruption in the region, allied to ECOWAS’s weak infrastructure and lack of political will. Although ECOWAS’s involvement in the 1990s in internal conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone through its peacekeeping force divided opinion and eventually led to its replacement by UN peacekeepers, Ghana and Nigeria have subsequently moved to enhance the region’s peacekeeping capabilities.

Link African Nationalism Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)