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The History of Integration in Africa in the XX Century

Countries of the African continent during the long history of being close to each other still had different levels of economic development, and, in comparison to other close continents such as Europe, remained underdeveloped. In the twentieth century, states had a significant gap in income, financial potential, transport opportunities. This paper will discuss associations established in Africa during the 20th century that were aimed to unite countries on the continent and overcome significant problems within local communities.

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The Beginning of Integration

The first integration association was established in Africa in the colonial era. In 1910, the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) was established to unite the English colonies in Africa: South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, and Lesotho (Williams and Hackland 246). Within the framework of the five participating countries, there were introduced several cooperation measures, such as free trade of goods, a common external tariff on imported products, common trade policy towards third countries, and free transit of cargos. Except for Botswana, all other countries decided to have the Common Monetary Area (CMA) and create a common currency, the South African rand zone, that exists to the present date.

After the SACU, there was a period of decrease in integration, and the processes of collaboration continued further in the 1950-1960s of the twentieth century. The Organization of African Unity (OAU), established in 1963, was an organization that united all 53 countries of the African continent to promote their unity and solidarity and protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity (“About the Organization”). Among the tasks facing the OAU were the coordination of cooperation in the fields of politics and diplomacy, defense and security, economy (including transport and communications), education and culture, health and food security, science and technology (“About the Organization”). However, the OAE has not yet been able to give a sustained impetus to the integration process on the African continent.

After 1960, a lot of new international organizations of economic and financial profiles emerged on the continent, which advocated the development of integration in a wide range of economic spheres. Former Metropolitan countries had a significant influence on pushing integration processes in Africa, but, as a rule, such power had specific goals: to keep them in the sphere of interests, as suggested (Célestin, et al. 3). An example is the various groupings of French-speaking, English-speaking countries, and so on.

At the initial stage of integration, organizations emerged based on specifics of African conditions, for example, based on geographical features of countries. For instance, there were “river profile” organizations: the Gambia River Basin Development Organization (OMVG), the Senegal River Basin Development Organization (OMVS), Organization for the Management and Development of the Kagera River (KBO), and so on (International Rivers’Rivers’ Africa Program, 4). Given the specific conditions and the economic conditions that existed in Africa in the twentieth century, this was a natural process of integration development in the continent.

Unique structures were also created as centers for a concentration of processes and transferring knowledge and skills for efficient collaboration. These organizations included the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission (AFWC), the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA), and others. Since some countries had a monocultural structure of production and hindered possible convergence, cooperation, expansion of trade, this development could continue, according to researchers (Ayenagbo et al. 11059). However, for several reasons, both objective and subjective, growth was rather sluggish.

The Evolvement of Integration Processes

In the 1960-70s of the twentieth century in Africa, there was a powerful influence of transnational corporations. In the 1980s, as a result of the active economic diplomacy of developing countries, including African countries, the international community, to some extent, coordinated approaches to corporations’ development (Tar et al. 228). Through the Lomé Convention, the conditions for cooperation between EU-member states (and therefore their former Metropolitan countries in Africa) and developing countries were settled, according to researchers (Odock and Bassey 53).

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The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which was established in 1975 and consisted of 16 countries, has become more active, intending to develop a united market in the region (“Treaty”). In 1995 during the 18th ECOWAS summit, it was announced that the updated community treaty had officially entered into force, with which states were hoping to enhance cooperation (Lansford 1760). Through the implementation of agreements on the free movement of people and goods, the development of trade and networks, the creation of a single parliament and currency by 2006, the integration had specific improvements (Célestin et al. 6).

The implementation of community plans faced significant difficulties due to the differences in the levels of economic development of countries, their different approaches to the use of power, and market levers to solve tasks. The rivalry between the Franco- and English-speaking countries of the subregion and their closer attachment to former Metropolitan areas than in other regions undermined the development of ECOWAS (Banfo 13). Furthermore, internal problems in Nigeria, which was considered by some countries to be the engine of integration processes in West Africa, have significantly impeded the effectiveness of ECOWAS (Banfo 19). Considering priority needs, more attention was paid to the implementation of The African Economic Community (AEC). The influence of OAU had helped to establish AEC, whose treaty entered into force in 1994 (Koroma et al. 24). The main support elements of the whole structure of the AEC were the existing sub-regional groupings, in particular ECOWAS, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Economic Community of Central African States (UDEAC). The priority was given to these associations to strengthen and enhance the coordination of African countries’ activities.

In November 1993, an Agreement was signed in Kampala (Uganda) to transform The Preferential Trade Area of Eastern and Southern Africa (PTA) association into COMESA (Lansford 1832). The unity included 21 countries and had plans to form a united market, a monetary union, and cooperation in the economic, legal, and administrative spheres, which is continued nowadays. The idea of creating a common market was to merge the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the PTA into COMESA (Lansford 1832). However, in 1994, at the SADC summit, it was decided to separate the two organizations in South and East Africa, respectively.

At the meeting of COMESA in 1996, tasks were set for the development of integration: the increase in industrial production, the removal of tariff barriers, and the introduction of a common external tariff (“Overview of COMESA”). As a result, there was a steady increase in intraregional trade, the abolition of almost all non-tariff barriers by countries, and a partial reduction in customs tariffs (“Overview of COMESA”). However, it was suggested that the problems of COMESA remain in the difference in the level of economic development between the countries, and the unstable political and financial situation is (Cheluget and Wright 481).

Another central association, the Central African Economic and Customs Union (UDEAC), was founded in 1966. It consisted of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Congo countries (“Central African Economic and Monetary Community”). The main objective of UDEAC was to improve the living conditions of people by strengthening the cooperation of member countries through the formation of a stock market and then through the economic and monetary union (“Central African Economic and Monetary Community”). In 1991 the issue of establishing economic and financial cooperation in Central Africa was raised, provided for the elimination of customs barriers by the year 2000 (Essien). Overall, at the end of the twentieth century, the integration processes among African countries started to evolve rapidly.


The analysis of historical aspects of African integration has suggested several essential conclusions. First, the initial emergence of alliances was universal for African countries due to the desire to gain independence from the mother countries; it was primarily politically motivated cooperation. This reason somewhat obscured the economic component, as a result of which the primary financial problems were not solved. Secondly, political integration, as represented by its founding states in the 1950s and 1960s, was also not achieved since the main issue – the delegation of the national authority to supranational bodies – also was an issue for the national elites. Furthermore, the differences in the level of social, economic, and political development of the countries of the region were profound, from existing old tribes to developed cities in several areas. The low level of infrastructure development did not allow states to eliminate these imbalances in the twentieth century.

Third, the application of western experience to the practice of African integration was not useful due to several possible reasons, such as their low efficiency or unsuitability for African conditions and countries. Tailored African theories and strategies of economic integration began to develop in the 1980s; therefore, they still must be evaluated over the years of implementation. Finally, economic integration at both levels — regional and continental — remained difficult for the generally underdeveloped countries of the continent. The competition at the local, continental, and global levels, and direct political conflicts in Africa, also did not contribute to the development of the African economic integration.

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Answers to Questions

  1. “The history of integration in Africa in the XX century” as a chosen topic is relevant to the context of the course as it is aimed to explore specific features of the history of Africa at a particular time.
  2. I have decided to research the particular issue of integration as there is a common fact that Africa is divided substantially due to various development flows. It appeals to me mainly as I wanted to investigate why the collaboration of African countries was failing most of the time.
  3. I am using scientific articles, books, relevant newspapers, and magazine articles to research the topic.
  4. The final structure of my paper will consist of several parts, including the beginning of integration processes, the evolvement, and results after the analysis. I will proceed with arguments based on explaining a historical background and drawing informed conclusions.
  5. The element of history that I find the most confusing now is the absence of the conventional explanation and agreement on integration procedures that drive African countries away from the stable development and support of each other.
  6. In the process of my research, I found out that various integration unions are based on geographical features, which is unique for me.
  7. I anticipate that the justification of the integration process will be based on several arguments, including economic gaps and political issues.
  8. The work on the topic did not change my attitude towards research a subject substantially. However, I started to realize how complicated the African continent is, and that country had put lots of effort to collaborate and work together peacefully.

Works Cited

  1. About the Organization of African Unity. Exploring Africa.
  2. Ayenagbo, Kossi, et al. “The impact of globalization on African countries economic development.” African Journal of Business Management, vol. 6, 2012, 11057-11076.
  3. Banfo, Napoleon. “The Political and Security Challenges Facing ‘ECOWAS’ in the Twenty-first Century: Testing the Limits of an Organization’s Reputation.” International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, vol. 3, no. 3, 2013, pp. 1-12. Web.
  4. Célestin, Monga, et al. “Regional integration in Africa: Challenges and Prospects.” The Oxford Handbook of Africa and Economics, vol. 2, 2015, pp. 1-24. Web.
  5. Central African Economic and Monetary Community. International Democracy Watch.
  6. Cheluget, Kipyego, and Wright, Stephen. “COMESA and the Tripartite Free Trade Area: Towards an African Economic Community?” South African Journal of International Affairs, vol. 24, no. 4, 2017, 481-499. Web.
  7. Essien, Victor. Regional Trade Agreements in Africa – A Historical and Bibliographic Account of ECOWAS and CEMAC. New York University School of Law, 2019.
  8. International Rivers’ Africa Program. “The African Dams Briefing.” International Rivers, 2015. Web.
  9. Koroma, Suffyan, et al. Towards an African common market for agricultural products. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, 2008.
  10. Lansford, Tom. Political Handbook of the World 2016-2017. CQ Press, 2017.
  11. Lansford, Tom. Political Handbook of the World 2018-2019. CQ Press, 2019.
  12. Odock, Christopher, and Bassey, Christian. “Political Economy of Multilateral Economic Cooperation and Third World Development: Lome Conventions and Their Implications for Nigeria.” International Journal of Business and Management Invention, vol. 6, no. 6, 2017, pp. 52-64.
  13. Overview of COMESA. The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Web.
  14. Tar, Usman, et al. Globalization in Africa: Perspectives on Development, Security, and the Environment. Lexington Books, 2016.
  15. Treaty. Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Web.
  16. Williams, Gwyneth, and Hackland, Brian. The Dictionary of Contemporary Politics of Southern Africa. Routledge, 2015.

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