The Phenomenon of African Economical Regionalism: Failed in Trade and Developmental Integration Projects ?

Dr. Yassir M. Al Obaid

The era in which we live is characterized by the multiplicity and diversity of regional organizations according to the fields in which they operate. 

There are regional, economic, and social organizations and other environmental and scientific organizations in certain fields; the most important of which are  those related to economic issues, especially in the field of trade and development. 

Regional cooperation in the economic field among African countries is on one side, given that the main challenge facing most African countries is mainly how to confront the elements of power in legalized and official trade exchange.

In addition, there is the matter of how to activate the industry to support development projects to create wealth and satisfy human needs and transform them from relying on the export of raw materials to the production and manufacture of agricultural commodities, and considering them as important means in supporting economic and trade relations between African countries.

This is achieved through African countries opening regional markets for products manufactured between them on one hand and the international market on the other.

The world is witnessing multiple patterns of the phenomenon of regional cooperation in the form of regional economic groupings and fillings.

These groupings represent solidarity with the countries of the global South in confronting the dangers of globalization and its negative effects. 

The trade aspect is one of the most prominent areas of economic globalization, which focuses on market freedom, removing trade barriers and opening the doors for trade exchange without hindrances. This is done through the formation of blocs and regional economic integration. 

The Shift

The world is now witnessing dramatic transformations that changed the shape of the geopolitical map which had previously been formed since World War II. 

The international balance was disrupted, the era of the Cold War ended, as with the ideological struggle between millions after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the United States of America now assuming leadership of what is known as the new international order. 

After the phenomenon of non-alignment became an international phenomenon that became outdated over the course of time throughout the third world, the issue of South / South cooperation as regional phenomena became more important than ever, and African countries resorted to regional phenomena from economic blocs as a new framework for melting cooperation between them collectively and bilaterally, to avoid the situation of conflicts that may arise.

While the countries of the world are seeking this kind of regional phenomena, such as what Britain is looking for outside after Brexit and its exit from the euro-zone, and the search for alliances outside the regional circle that are beneficial to them economically and commercially, we find that African countries are still torn apart by division and conflict, which hindered the movement of economic and social development.

This is mostly notable post continental independence, in an era which had witnessed unparalleled failure and retreat for over than two decades; a period of time that was notoriously referred to as (The Lost Era of Development).

Before and Now: Integration

The establishment of integrative federations and groupings, since the first wave of African countries achieving independence,  affected the economic model heavily; which itself was not subject to adequate study and analysis in light of international and regional variables, which in turn caused it to falter and fail.

One such prominent case is the case of the Central African Union, which was founded in 1953 under the leadership of Northern Rhodesia and broke apart in 1963 due to political dissonance and racism among the members.

As is the case with the Central African Economic Customs Union, which was established in 1969 and included Gabon, Congo, Brazzaville, Chad and the Central African Republic.

Likewise, the grouping of the Common Market of Eastern and Southern African Countries (COMESA) is also considered stumbling and failed to meet the aspirations of the peoples and countries of the region, bearing in mind that COMESA was established to replace the Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern Africa (PTA).

This preferential zone was established within the Lagos Action Plan drawn up by the Organization of African Unity in 1981, and ended with the signing of the Common Market Agreement in 1994.

The second phase began with the establishment of COMESA in the year 2000. 

Despite the length of time given for the establishment of nearly four decades, the failure was evident in the failure to establish a solid ground on which the commercial base of the region’s countries would stand.

On the other hand, the ECOWAS would not have been better than the COMESA it had preceded in handling formal issues such as the unification of the passport and the united currency; to be printed in France. 

The phenomenon of African economic regionalism needs a preliminary systematic review and reconsideration by creating economic entities linked to the strong will of African countries in the different regions and it seems that many factors need to be studied thoroughly. 

The phenomenon also needs more serious thinking and consideration, especially from elites and thinkers. It needs more discussions, convergence and coordination for joint economic development work by establishing financial markets, stock exchanges, commodity and raw material exchanges. 

This would help Africa take up place again within the largest economic front around the world in order to face the challenges imposed by globalization organizations such as the World Trade Organization and the new international financial system.

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