Africa’s mishmash of regional blocs doesn’t add enough value

Africa’s regional groups should form the building blocks of an integrated African Union (AU). On a vast continent with 55 countries, such associations make good sense. Working optimally, they enable member states to efficiently deal with cross-border security, developmental and economic issues, and jointly take on proactive projects.

But the continent’s eight regional economic communities (RECs) and two regional mechanisms collectively have 106 members. That means most countries are part of more than one bloc, which stretches capacity and leads to confusion, divided loyalties and weak functioning. The AU envisages ‘incremental integration’ to streamline the regional blocs, but progress has been slow.

Next week, for example, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) holds its annual summit in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which belongs to three RECs. These are SADC, the East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). Kinshasa’s diplomatic capacity will be tested.

The various blocs’ performance also differs dramatically. The EAC – with its regional parliament and plans for a confederation – is economically the continent’s most integrated region, according to a report presented at the 17 July AU-RECs coordination meeting in Lusaka, Zambia. This is followed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and SADC.

The Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) is the least…

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