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Prospects for Regional Integration in Africa – A Comparative Perspective

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International MIASA Conference and Book Project

(Eds. Andreas Freytag and Abena D. Oduro)


The African Union (AU) has recently taken bold steps to integrate the continent further. In 2015 members agreed on a broad integration plan, the Agenda 2063. A first success has already been achieved: The Agenda 2063 foresees a comprehensive free trade agreement which was to be finalized in 2017, and was eventually agreed upon in March 2018. Other steps are to follow, implying deeper integration with respect to movement of people, education and financial deepening, among others.

It seems as if the European model of integration is seen – consciously or by implication, and mostly uncritically – as a role model for African economic integration. This is not least because the EU has supported African integration efforts in the past in different forms, i.e. conceptually as well as materially. That said, it is by no means clear whether and if so, to what extent the European integration can be easily applied to African countries and their citizens. In addition, it is not obvious that it should. Indeed, many African policymakers and scholars raise doubts about the EU’s function as role model. They argue this with reference to historical analogies as well as institutional and cultural differences between the two continents.

Against this background, there is a need to carefully analyse the implications of more than sixty years of European integration. However, In addition, other continents’ (including African) experiences for the nascent African integration process have to be studied. Although it seems as if the European experience dominates the discussion, there is much potential to learn from integration processes all over the globe. African integration can very much benefit from a thorough study of integration successes and failures in Europe, Asia and Latin America as well as in Africa itself. A necessity for such an analysis is a multi-disciplinary setting that explicitly considers an African perspective.

An ideal form to bring together different – and probably rather diverse – experiences, is a book project in combination with an international conference organised by the Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa (MIASA), where research results will be presented and discussed with a wider audience. Based on this conference, the book chapters shall be drafted by the scholars, either single-authored or co-authored.

The Themes of the Conference and Book

The planned international conference and book will highlight the significant similarities and differences between integration paths in Africa and other continents and thereby help policymakers to understand the mutual lessons from different integration experiences. It will provide opportunities for an informed and nuanced discourse on interdisciplinary perspectives, empirical findings and policy implications between non-African and African scholars, political office-bearers, policymakers in government, and representatives of international bodies. The book consists of three Parts.

Part I: The State of intra-African co-operation: ambition vs. reality

In the first paper the theoretical arguments for regional integration shall be discussed with a perspective on African idiosyncrasies.

In the second paper of Part I, different approaches to regionally integrated African economies – starting with the oldest customs union, SACU – shall be discussed.

The third paper shall provide an analytical overview about the current state of economic and political cooperation in Africa, using empirical methods.

Next, political aspects shall be analysed. What are the implications for African economic integration of changes in the balance of power between leading nations in the world? How do external relations to other countries or blocs (notably China) affect the internal equilibrium within the continent?

Paper five shall discuss the performance of African integration; the question of what the obstacles and challenges of African integration are as well as the achievements shall be thoroughly assessed.

Paper 6 shall discuss the reasons for the shortcomings in the African integration process, in particular the political economy aspects, which include trade and industrial policy, undiversified economies, corruption, weak states and rent-seeking, the colonial legacy as well as geographical challenges.

Part II: Experiences in other continents

Two papers shall deal with the European integration process, and also adopt a historical perspective. The first paper shall give a short account of European integration, looked at from an African perspective, i.e. with a comparative view to African integration steps.

In the second paper, the shortcomings of European integration shall be discussed. Again, an African perspective is taken, this is necessary to avoid a fallacy of composition.

The subsequent 4 papers shall look at regional integration attempts in two other developing areas, namely Latin America and Asia respectively. These are Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance respectively for Latin America and ASEAN and subsequently the newly installed RCEP as an ASEAN plus. In addition, it seems advisable to also carefully analyse the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) as a cross-continent free trade agreement.

Part III: Direct Lessons from other regional integration efforts

Based on Parts I and II, the project subsequently proceeds by drawing lessons from other continents’ integration for African integration efforts, be they regionally restricted or aimed at the entire continent. This Part will be written by the editors.

View the programme here.

Date and time

Monday, 13 September 2021 —
Wednesday, 15 September 2021

All Day​

All times are in SAST (UTC+2)


STIAS Wallenberg Research Centre

STIAS, Marais Road, Mostertsdrift

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