I History and theory of African regionalism

Conceptualising and historicising African regionalism in the context of pan-Africanism

Samuel Osagie Odoho


Regionalism developed as a vital component of Africa’s interstate relations as colonialism wound down. It has remained an important element in the continent’s development approach to promote inclusive economic, political and sociocultural development. African regionalism developed from a pan-Africanist philosophical consciousness that African states share a common set of historical, political, economic and sociocultural problems, the resolution of which is closely linked with African unity. In essence, regionalism is essential to the pan-African aspiration of creating a ‘United States of Africa’ - integrated and strong enough to contest Africa’s global marginalisation and improve the continent’s economic, security and political performance. From this aspiration developed both supranational and sub-regional integration initiatives aimed at restructuring and uniting the continent politically and economically.

More than five decades of integration efforts in Africa, the actualisation of integration remains largely unfulfilled. African regionalism has not yielded satisfactory results, unlike in other regions where integration efforts have successfully improved their economies (Mattli, 1999). African markets remain structurally fragile, non-industrialised and primary commodity-based. Trade amongst African nations, as at 2017, remained abysmally little at 15% compared to trade with others as shown by AFREXIMBANK report (2018, p. 15). Africa appears stuck in what Olivier (2010, p. 17) has referred to as the phase of‘shallow integration’, in spite of the existence of a number of initiatives to promote African integration.

The first of such grand initiatives for Africa’s development was adopted in 1980, known as the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA). The LPA established the goal of an integrated African market by the year 2000. The 1991 Abuja Treaty extended the objective of the LPA by envisaging deeper African integration through functional economic cooperation, beginning with the strengthening of existing sub-regional economic blocs and creation of new ones, culminating in the creation of the African Economic Community (AEC) by 2028. The New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) are among the more recent initiatives to address endemic poverty and underdevelopment and propel Africa further towards greater integration. In addition to prioritising intra-African trade, these recent initiatives also place a premium on political and economic reforms as well as ownership of Africa’s development agenda. Whether these latest initiatives would yield the desired result remains to be seen.

The enthusiasm that has characterised the contemporary push for African integration shows that regional integration is still highly regarded by African elites despite the failings of past integration plans. This raises the question as to what force propels the contemporary push for African integration. Could there have been a shift in African leaders’ thinking regarding how Africa should approach integration, in such a way that rectifies whatever lapses existed with past initiatives? Arguably, not much has changed since the 1980s to enhance African regionalism and to advance economic development in the continent. The reason is that African leaders continue to focus on seemingly misplaced set of priorities with a near lack of genuine commitment towards the objective of integration. The most questionable of these is the unrelenting appetite for grand ambitions and abstract ideas that appear difficult to implement. As argued by Mistry (2000, cited in Qobo, 2007, p. 2), ‘African governments need to be less ambitious and more realistic ... about the objectives and intermediate targets for integration, taking into account the constraints and capacities of integrating national governments’. Thus, actualising African integration requires pragmatism and sincere commitment towards implementation of established integration objectives.

A gradual, functional integration approach that begins with implementation at the domestic level may be the most appropriate place to begin. The focus at the domestic level should involve instituting sustainable governance reforms, followed by efforts at the sub-regional level with emphasis on coordination of development efforts and gradual harmonisation of norms and regulations which would form the building blocks for deeper regional integration. Greater detail on these core issues is discussed in this chapter mainly from a continental, supranational integration perspective. Following the introduction, it provides a theoretical statement on regional integration. This sets the stage for an examination of regionalism within the context of pan-Africanism. A brief historical examination of regionalism in Africa follows, after which it appraises the regional integration in Africa and its future prospects. The concluding remarks constitute the final part of the work.

Theoretical statement

The concept of regionalism requires clarity considering that a variety of definitions exist as to what it entails. While some view it primarily as an economic scheme that involves intra-regional trade arrangements (Thonke & Spliid, 2012), others conceptualise it largely as a security or political project (Mansfield & Solingen, 2010). Further clarification is important relating to the geographical scope of the concept, as the idea of a ‘region’ can denote different levels of territorial configurations, from the domestic to the sub-regional and regional (Grant & Soderbaum, 2003). In this study, African regionalism is essentially

African regionalism in pan-Africanism 15 considered as an economic and security project. Furthermore, and without attempting to invalidate the correctness of other, different views of African regionalism, this study discusses regionalism from the perspective of a continental attempt to integrate Africa politically and economically, otherwise viewed as ‘continentalism’. Accordingly, the other interstate groupings within Africa such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) come under what I refer to as sub-regionalism.

Two broad schools of thought have dominated theoretical explanations of regionalism, particularly in Africa: the functionalist and the federalist schools of thought. The functionalists advocate a gradual, incremental approach to integration. For them, a gradual policy approach that promotes technical and economic cooperation at various levels would metamorphose into deeper levels of economic interdependence and development which ultimately would result in integration (Pentland, 1975; Ballassa, 2011). This implies the elimination of trade barriers in interstate relations through the establishment of a free trade area or the creation of customs union. Ballassa (2011) identifies five crucial levels of economic integration: a free-trade area characterised by the absence of tariffs and quotas in trade relations among the partner states; a customs union with guarantees of free movement of goods as well as common customs tariff on commodities imported into partner countries from non-participating countries; a common market which, in addition to the first two, is defined by the free movement of labour and capital; an economic union in which member countries share common economic policies; and, last, the highest level of integration - a political union which establishes a single economic and political entity.

The federalist theoretical perspective on integration advocates the banding together of disparate entities (with common interests) to form a central unit where each surrenders a portion or all of their sovereignty to the supranational union. The notion of supra-nationality evolves from the idea that the multinational state possesses the essential political authority and coercive and other material influence to be able to cater to the security, economic and associated needs of member states (Pentland, 1975). Thus, the federalists conceptualise regionalism mainly as a political and security project where politics superintends over economics. As such, an integrated economy of partner countries could best be facilitated with the adoption of a common system of rules of conduct and the establishment of a multinational institution imbued with legal, administrative, budgetary and coercive authority.

African regionalism has been heavily scrutinised through the theoretical prism of the functionalist school (Lee, 2002; Olivier, 2010). Herein lies the problem in analysing African regionalism. As Schirm (2002) has observed, the dominance of trade-related analysis makes contemporary academic analysis of African regionalism problematic. The limitation of such analysis, according to Mattli (1999, p. 11), is that it focusses mainly at ‘market relationships ... within (the) region and assume away the relevance of institutional and political forces ... that produce such areas’. African regionalism is unique and the historical, ideological, political, economic and sociocultural factors that shape its processcannot be adequately explained using a single approach. Being both a political and economic project, the importance of politics should not be wished away in the discourse of African regionalism.

A New Regionalism Approach (NRA) has emerged that recognises the multidimensional and multifaceted nature of regionalism, and helps bridge the gap between political and economic analysis of African regionalism and provide better explanation for the success and failure of regionalism in Africa. Amongst other things, the NRA recognises that cooperation occurs across various fields, including, political, security, economic, environmental and other issues (Van Ginkel, Court & Van Langenhove, 2000). This implies that beyond scrutinising intra-African trade relations, emphasis should also be on the evolution of supranational decision-making and the progress that has been made in the area of security cooperation, conflict intervention and the promotion of a common African interest at the global level. An appreciation of these features provides a better theoretical background in analysing the uniqueness of African integration. Accordingly, African regionalism, so far, might have underperformed in terms of economic integration, but the patterns of integrative cooperation in Africa show that regionalisation is occurring in the field of security, politics, economics and culture, even though the process remains slow, particularly at the level of economic integration.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >