The integration of the African continent is well above average with five Regional Economic Communities (RECs) demonstrating progressive efforts towards integration. The East African Community (EAC); Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA); Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS); and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) integration scores exceed 0.6 in a rating range between 0 and 1. The other RECs, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD); Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD); and the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) are just above the average of 0.5. The lack of defined plans or programmes in certain dimensions of integration such as free movement, financial and monetary integration are the causes for the poor overall performance of the three RECs.
The latest 2021 African Integration Report shows that ECOWAS, COMESA and EAC performed best in trade integration, with scores above 75%. The three have been able to implement essential steps for achieving trade integration such as the free trade zones and a common external tariff, among others. At the infrastructural level, the RECs have almost similar developments. This corroborates the general problem of infrastructure in Africa, which cannot effectively support the integration process. With an average progression of 63%, no REC stands out significantly in terms of the achievements and progress made.
The 2021 African Integration Report whose primary theme looks at the “Putting Free Movement of Persons at the centre of Continental Integration”, shows that the average progress of the RECs in the implementation of free movement of persons is moderate at 0.68 on a rating scale between 0 and 1. ECOWAS and EAC stand out from other RECs in the evaluations with respective ratings of ECOWAS (100%) and EAC (96%); all the other RECs score below 65%. This can be explained by the difficulties experienced in either implementing the regional free movement protocols or the abolition of visas in their Member States. The third edition of the African Integration Report comes at a time when the COVID-19 continues to ravage economies, with the economic impact of the pandemic on the African continent leading to the first recession in 25 years, with economic activity falling by more than 3% in 2020, according to a recent report by the World Bank. Regional coordination is therefore an effective approach to manage the response and promote post-pandemic recovery as a key catalyst for long-term prosperity.
In terms of monetary integration, the report shows that all the RECs are still struggling. SADC and EAC are making the best progress towards monetary integration with the establishment of preparatory institutions for monetary integration, such as a Monetary Institute and a committee for the harmonization of convergence criteria. On Environmental integration, ECCAS, SADC, ECOWAS and COMESA have scores above 60%. These RECs have been able to develop plans and programmes focused on environmental protection particularly in the context of climate change. ECCAS is more advanced with several institutions involved in environmental management.
Financial Integration is one of the important dimensions to support Free Trade Areas, Customs Unions, and Common Markets, at the regional or continental level. This latest report looks at the main steps that characterize the process of financial integration such as the harmonization of financial policies at the regional level and the establishment of a regulatory institution; among others. It shows that SADC and COMESA have put in the most effort in achieving financial integration. In regards to institutional and political integration, ECOWAS and the EAC stand out as having set up institutions linked to political and institutional integration, such as the court of justice and a regional parliament.
The African Union Commission Chairperson, H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat commends the progress made in moving forward the continental integration highlighting the possibilities to foster regional integration for the continent’s socio-economic transformation. Some RECs have provided practical success stories based on strategies and initiatives that can easily be adopted by others. He stated “one of the important messages emerging from the 2021 African Integration Report is that while the pace of regional integration has been generally slow in some RECs, significant progress has been made in various thematic areas; such as the free movement of persons, customs unions, tariff and nontariff barriers, transport corridors and regional infrastructure.”
While launching the Report during the Africa CEOs Roundtable Conference at the Expo 2020 Dubai, Amb. Albert Muchanga, African Union Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade, Industry and Mining Department, underscored the need to scale up investments in infrastructure to effectively support intra-African trade and for African economies to raise their rates of economic growth to create optimal conditions to generate decent jobs and reduce poverty. In highlighting the opportunities for integration he stated, “as Africa implements the AfCFTA Agreement, there are already foundations for deeper integration at both the levels of a customs union and common market. The protocol on free movement of people, right of residence and right of establishment adopted for signature in 2018 together with the Single African Air Transport Market are good examples in this direction. Furthermore, the AfCFTA protocols under negotiation on competition policy, investment, intellectual property rights and digital trade are also support instruments towards deeper integration towards a customs union or even common market.”
The increased movement of people, goods and services across borders inevitably acts as an important incentive for better infrastructural linkages and connections among African countries. As more recognition of the benefits of greater flows of trade and labour mobility and fair business competitiveness, that will promote African countries for further improving cross-border infrastructure, links and connectivity. Zhao Jian, the Acting Chief of Mission and Head of Special Liaison Office of IOM, on his part noted that “the free movement of economically active migrants will both boost employment and lower unemployment rates. It will further enhance productivity and income (including via remittances), and have a positive impact on taxes and social contributions. If well managed and embraced, free movement for sure will help African economies and societies offset intra-African and global structural disadvantages. Some challenges might arise along the way when implementing the agenda on free movement of persons, but that does not mean the goal is unattainable. There has been already good experience in EU regarding regional integration. Africa would be well served by addressing the obstacles to free movement of persons, which in our view are not insurmountable.
The third edition of the African Integration Report gives indepth analysis of:
- The Status of Regional Integration on the Continent using the African Multidimensional Regional Integration Index.
- The Lessons and Trends in the integration process both at the continental as well as REC level.
- The Free Movement of Persons as an essential step towards the achievement of the African Economic Community in relation to the Free Movement of Goods, Services, Capital, and People.
- The recommendations on how Regional Integration can help Africa to build Back Better and the role of Regional Integration in Africa’s post-COVID-19 Recovery with an analysis of the Global Economic and Financial Ecosystem.
- The need for enhanced inclusivity in the and the role of gender and youth in African integration; including in the AfCFTA and in post-COVID Recovery on the Continent.
- Financing Regional Integration in Africa and the operationalising the African Integration Fund.