Regionalism in Africa: Cooperation without Integration?

By Olivier, Gerrit | Strategic Review for Southern Africa, November 2010 | Go to article overview

Regionalism in Africa: Cooperation without Integration?


Olivier, Gerrit, Strategic Review for Southern Africa


ABSTRACT

The 'idea of Africa' implies pan-Africanism, that is, a united Africa, working in concert towards a better future for a continent consisting of one billion people and 54 sovereign independent nation states. Since decolonisation, regional integration was proclaimed as the most efficacious way to reach this goal, the best way to enhance the continent's capacity to deal with the daunting and perennial challenges of underdevelopment, poverty-reduction, marginalisation and globalisation. Half a century since decolonisation, the ideal of regionalisation, while still prevalent, remains by-and-large an unfulfilled aspiration. While a plethora of regional institutions came into being over the years, Africa is still in the phase of 'shallow integration' or intergovernmental cooperation. Supra-national decision-making, the touchstone of regional integration, does not exist, even in limited form. The question raised in this article is whether ideologically inspired declarations about continental solidarity and inclusiveness alone, as epitomised by pan-Africanism, are sufficient preconditions for successful African integration given the divisions and plurality that exists among the 53 member states of the African Union. A new paradigm of African integration seems necessary. In this respect, Africa's subregional institutions, particularly the Regional Economic Communities, seem promising building blocks for authentic future regionalisation. There are also hopeful signs that as democracy takes firmer root across the continent, progressive economic growth continues in some states, civil society becomes more relevant and assertive, and the post-colonial ancient regime makes way for a new class of rational leadership, Africa will be better positioned in future to make regionalism work as, indeed, was the intention of the founding fathers of African Unity.

1. INTRODUCTION

In view of divergent theoretical thinking in the field, assessing the progress of regional integration in Africa is a difficult, if not imprecise exercise. Particularly, because of the going out of fashion of the earlier more precise and narrowly defined teleological notions of classical definitions by modernistic, open-ended, mostly vaguely defined views, articulated in the burgeoning body of contemporary analysis about regionalism, regionalisation and integration, the identification of normative criteria and objective benchmarks for the assessment of development in the field became problematic.

An obvious dichotomy exists between the more narrowly defined earlier analyses of seminal thinkers in this field--notably Ernst Haas (1968), Bela Balassa (1961), Carl Deutsch (1968), and William Wallace (1982) and contemporary analysts who prefer to define regional integration or regionalism more generally and open-ended. Contemporary writing on the subject, under the heading of the 'New Regional Approach' (NRA) is, in general, multi-dimensional, broadly focussed, making no clear distinction between conventional interstate transactions and regionalisation, between conventional intergovernmental cooperation and authentic integration of states on a supra-national level.

In the analysis which follows theoretical perspectives in the field of regional integration are reviewed and applied to the African context. In spite of the fact that regional integration in Africa has, since decolonisation, been a primary political goal of pan-Africanism, progress has not yet moved beyond the cooperative or confederal phase of interaction. The idea of building a 'United States of Africa', or for that matter, any type of union impinging on the sovereignty of nation-states, still remains a far-off future goal, hence the term cooperative integration is used here to describe the process in Africa. The various efforts over the years to overcome the debilitating effects of being a balkanised, marginalised, underdeveloped continent are analysed. On the basis of existing knowledge and experience, it seems that developing sub-continental regional groupings, particularly the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), into autonomous integrated entities, offer a more viable option than the continental African Union (AU). …

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