Last year, there were a lot of discussions on how Africa could leverage on
its regional economic communities for more integration on the continent.
Continental Free Trade Zone, was also one of the major discussions in the
recently concluded African Union summit; one to be led by the new African Union
chairperson Rwandan president Paul Kagame. In a recent
report by Brookings Institute, the importance of leveraging on Africa’s
regional communities when talking about a Continental Free Trade Zone was laid
|Map of Africa
The report, titled “ Foresight Africa: Top priorities for the continent in
2018” featured contributions from many influential figures on the continent
including Rwanda president Paul Kagame, Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara,
former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, African Development Bank
chairman Akinwunmi Adesina e.t.c, who all gave their thoughts on what they
think will happen on the continent in 2018.
Unleashing Africa’s Inner Strength
The first chapter was about ‘Unleashing Africa’s Inner Strength,’ and the
Rwandan president who is also leading the push for a Continental Free Trade
Zone wrote on building a stronger African Union. The president referenced a
survey conducted by Afro Barometer in 2015, which did an extensive study into
the relative strength of regional bodies on the continent.
Criteria such as trade integration, regional infrastructure, productive
integration, free movement of people, and financial and macroeconomic
integration were used to rank each regional bodies. The African Union
recognizes eight Regional Economic Communities (REC); Community of
Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa
(COMESA), East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of Central African
States (ECCAS), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS),
Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Southern African Development
Community (SADC), and Arab Maghreb Union (UMA). Many countries are members of
more than one REC.
Africa’s Regional Economic Communities
The East African Community (EAC) scored highest on trade integration, the
Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) scored highest on regional
infrastructure, the East African Community on Productive integration, Economic
Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the free movement of people, and
also financial and macroeconomic integration.
The survey also recorded the responses of Africans when they were asked if
they thought their regional communities were better than the African Union.
Respondents from 36 African countries were interviewed, and there was a
slightly higher regard for regional bodies than the African Union, with the
East African nations being highest in this accord, followed by West African
However, Central African nations in the survey had the most trust in
the African Union, followed by Southern African countries. Many of the
countries with a high regard for regional bodies have been influenced by the
intervention of these bodies in key moments in history e.g. Liberia perceived
ECOWAS to be more important because of its intervention during the Ebola crisis
and its civil wars.
African Union Focus for 2018
30 recommendations were made at the last African summit, grouped into five
areas; “(1) focus on key priorities with continental scope, and improve the
division of labor with Regional Economic Communities; (2) re-align African
Union institutions to deliver on those priorities; (3) connect the work of the
African Union more directly to citizens; (4) manage the business of the African
Union more efficiently at both the political and operational levels; and (5)
sustainably self-finance its activities.”
Evidently, the first priority of the new chairperson, Kagame, is the
regional African communities, which he believes will help with African
integration. While there’s already free movement within some regions, e.g.
ECOWAS, it is obvious that some regions need better integration before becoming
part of a Continent-wide Free Trade Zone. Many in the survey expressed extreme
difficulties in crossing borders from a region to the borders of a country in
another region on the continent. Yet, this is key to the creation of a
Continental Free Trade Zone; the easy movement of people, and goods and
Lack of free movement is also a key problem of Intra-African importation and
exportation. Afreximbank Vice-president Amr Kamel remarked last year in Egypt
on the limitations of intra-trade in Africa.
“Contrary to the popular view that
lack of infrastructure was the biggest challenge to intra-African trade, such
trade was actually being held back mainly because people in one African country
lacked information about trade opportunities in other African countries,”
he said. He also added that some African countries were importing goods from
outside the continent at a higher cost when the products are available at lower
costs in other African countries.
Paul Kagame is setting the African continent on a new path as African Union
chairperson, a path he is perhaps familiar with. The economic growth of Rwanda
under him has been widely applauded. Africa’s GDP was forecasted to grow by 0.7
percent forecasted to grow by 0.7 in 2018 but now has been forecasted to grow
by 0.5 percent this year. Perhaps, instituting these trade reforms could
further promote integration and a faster GDP growth for the continent.