In March 2018, 44 African Countries committed to the launch of a common market for Africa - the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), this follows the launch of an African Common Passport in July 2016. These are additional milestones towards Africa’s integration that will enable people to build better lives. Africa’s integration has considerable potential not only for driving more robust and equitable economic growth through markets, it holds the promise for reducing conflict on the continent.
Africa’s efforts towards regional and continental integration can be traced back to the formation of the Organization of African Unity over 50 years ago, and the subsequent African Union that reflect a compromise between Monrovia and the Casablanca groups which championed various dimensions of continental integration in the 1960s. This first step towards promoting continental unity was followed by an important milestone, the Abuja Treaty (1991) which underpins the African Economic Community. Regional economic communities (RECs) are regarded as the building blocks of the African Economic Community. These RECs have underpinned tremendous progress on Africa’s integration, particularly in relation to trade liberalization and facilitation (West Africa economic and monetary Union, COMESA); free movement of people (ECOWAS), infrastructure (SADC, EAC), and peace and security (ECOWAS and SADC).
Despite this progress and strong affirmations of political commitment by African leaders, over the past five decades, most Africans believe continental integration achievements have been modest compared to set goals. Some of the key challenges associated with the slow pace of progress include lack of political will and the absence of resources and technical capacity to facilitate the implementation of commitments made by leaders. The citizens of the continent nonetheless would wish for more and faster integration across economic, social, cultural and political aspects of development. They want to be able to live and work, run a business, and travel with ease anywhere on the continent. They also want to be respected across the world and want the continent to play a prominent role in the global affairs.
This aspiration for an “integrated continent” is a key pillar of Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the theme of the forthcoming 2018 African Economic Conference (AEC) which focuses on “Regional and Continental Integration for Africa’s Development”. The discussion will build on the outcome of the 2013 AEC on “Regional Integration in Africa” and examine practical solutions to make the recently adopted Continental Free Trade Area a reality. The conference outcome will contribute to ensuring that the AfCFTA becomes an instrument for promoting Africa’s inclusive development through nurturing institutions and partnerships that sustain actions for Africa’s integration in its multiple forms: economic, social, cultural, environmental and political.