While policy makers talk about the African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) as building blocks of the AU, coordination and harmonization between them has barely begun, according to two reports dealing with the state of regional integration in Africa.
Obstacles to speed up integration are manifold, as stated in the conference report from the South African Centre for Conflict Resolution, "Building an African Union for the 21st century". Multiple membership of African states leads to a cumbersome and inefficient situation where even a low level of policy harmonization is difficult. Tanzania for example is member of the SADC, COMESA and the EAC.
Economic integration is mainly carried by the pan-African NEPAD - and it is sometimes criticized to be largely driven by political leaders. Its policies, such as market liberalization and good governance, are supported from external donors, like the European Union, but miss ownership at grassroots level. Furthermore trade barriers and bad infrastructure hamper economic growth of the African continent.
Recently civil society organisations from Europe and Africa expressed their fear that the EPA negotiations with single RECs will create more divisions on the African continent.
The current framework of AU-REC relations is defined in the AU Commission Strategy Plan 2004-2007. According to these documents the AU should harmonize and coordinate the activities of RECs to guarantee consistence with own objectives and principles. The plan aims to achieve a minimum level of integration until 2007.
A new plan needs to be discussed at the summer summit of the African Union. The future framework of EU-AU cooperation, including the issue of regional integration is the topic of a public consultation currently run by both organisations.
Read more about the African Union, its policy and the cooperation with European Union on the Euforic Africa dossier.
Story by Martin Behrens