EDITORIAL: Regional economic communities should lay the ground for an integrated Africa

African leaders have long grappled with the idea of delivering an integrated Africa, some even agitating for the creation of a United States of Africa, albeit with little success.

African leaders have long grappled with the idea of delivering an integrated Africa, some even agitating for the creation of a United States of Africa, albeit with little success.

Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe are among the prominent proponents of the notion of Africa morphing into a fully-fledged union with one figurehead at the helm; nonetheless, the project seems to have rather fizzled out following the death of Gaddafi in 2011.

 

While there may be different suggestions as to how best Africa can become a truly united and integrated bloc, one thing is constant: the desire to make that dream a reality.

 

The majority of African leaders may rather have the continent gradually evolve into a union than fast-track it into one large country as the latter option does not allow for putting the necessary pillars in place to ensure sustainability.

 

They argued that the best option is to first build strong regional economic blocs by breaking down barriers to intra-regional trade and free movement of people, as well as creating closer ties in different sectors among countries in the same neighborhood, and establishing harmonised systems in key areas.

Now, there are several regional economic communities across Africa, with the East African Community (EAC) arguably the most advanced.

However, these blocs have hardly made significant progress in key areas such as intra-Africa trade and ease of travel across borders.

These issues have become common themes of pan-African gatherings because many are frustrated with the slow pace of progress.

Addressing delegates at the just-concluded Annual General Assembly of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) on Saturday, in Kigali, President Paul Kagame reiterated the need to urgently improve intra-Africa trade and underlined the importance of political will in this effort.

Political will on such simple but critical matters as opening up borders to other Africans is one missing part of the integration jigsaw.

The challenges that are being encountered by regional economic blocs across the continent vindicate those who had reservations about the idea of fast-tracking the United States of Africa dream.

However, the lack of significant progress on regional integration issues must not undermine the need for a fully-integrated, more united, vibrant continent, or even the rational to work toward a United States of Africa.

As African leaders meet this week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to, among others, discuss the status of the ongoing African Union reforms – an exercise that’s being coordinated by President Kagame – it’s important that they reflect on the critical role of regional economic communities in the effort to deliver on the aspirations of Africans and devise ways to help these blocs stop dithering and start to meet expectations.

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