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The Relation between African Union and Sub-Regional Organizations in Africa

The Relation between African Union and Sub-Regional Organizations in Africa


It is believed that close collaboration between Africa’s regional communities on the one hand, and the African Union on the other, hived will accelerate the socio economic development of the continent. Policy makers generally take of the RECs as the building blocks of the African Union as enshrined in the Abuja Treaty of 1991-co-ordinations and harmonization of policies between them are of the major concern.


Article 28 of the 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community made the issue of strengthening Regional Economic Communities a major Concern:

Article 28 Strengthening Regional Economic Communities

  1. During the first stage, Member states undertake to strengthen the existing regional economic communities and to establish new communities where they do not exist in order to ensure the gradual establishment of the community; and .
  2. Member states shall take all necessary measure aimed at promoting increasingly closer cooperation among the communities, particularly through co-ordination and harmonization of their activities in all fields or sectors in order to ensure the realization of the realization of the objectives of the community.


As it is mentioned in the first chapter of this material, the adoption of the 1991 Abuja treaty was one of the major antecedents to the African Union. The African Union was meant to be a forum that can accelerate sub regional economic integrations which would in due course be amalgamated to create the African Economic Community. In pursuance of this expectation, the African Union has so far recognized seven Regional Economic Communities. Besides recognizing them, the African Union dares to collaborate with them so as to create integrated Africa in the forthcoming future. These Regional Economic Communities are highlighted in the following paragraphs.


Inter -governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) was created in 1996. It has seven member countries in East Africa. These are Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. The IGAD was basically founded to address the recurring and sever droughts and other natural disasters that caused widespread famine, ecological degradation and economic hardship in the Eastern African Region. Its members felt that a collective and integrated measure can successfully help in reducing such problems as compared to non integrated national efforts.


The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) was established by Treaty in 1991. It comprises19 member states: Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya (since June 2005) Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The COMESA main objectives include taking advantage of a larger market size, to share the region’s common heritage and allow greater social and economic co-operation with the ultimate objective of creating on economic community.


The East African Community (EAC) is another sub-regional intergovernmental organization of the Republics of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda. Its main objective is to enhance the region’s competitiveness through ever deeper integration inclusive of a customs union, a common market, a monetary union and ultimately a political federation of East African states.


The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) was established in 1983. It has ten member states. These are Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe. Among the vital steps taken by ECCAS, its adoption of a protocol relating to the establishment of a network of parliamentarians of Central Africa and the early warring system for Central Africa are the notable ones.


The Economic Commission of Western African States (ECOWAS) was established in 1975. It is a sub-regional grouping of fifteen countries including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote-Divore, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea, Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. The EOWAS has four objectives: the removal of customs for intra-ECOWAS trade and taxes having equivalent effect, the establishment of common external tariff, the harmonization of economic and financial policies, and the creation of single monetary zone.


The Southern African Development Community (SADC) was established in 1992. It has fourteen member states: Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. SADC has monetary, economic, political, security and cultural objectives which aim at cooperation and integration among its member states.


The Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) was established in 1989. It has five member states: Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. It dares to guarantee cooperation with other regional institutions and between its member states.


As is evident from the highlights provided in the preceding paragraphs, many of the sub-regional organizations have an objective of creating a harmonized and integrated region in many fields. This is of much help to pursue African Union’s objective of accelerating the political and socio-economic integration of the continent. As can be seen from the Rules of Procedure of the African Union Assembly (cf. Chapter Two), the RECs are made part of the African Union’s activities. In fact, it is decided that a delegate is appointed to interface with the RECs.  This strengthens the legal relationship between the African Union and the mentioned sub-regional organizations. The RECs are now becoming organs that can implement decisions adopted by the African Union Assembly. For example, African Union may impose sanctions on a member state wherein unconstitutional change of government has occurred. Such economic sanctions can effectively be implemented through the REC to which the state in issue is a member.


Before winding up this discussion, let’s  have a look at the policy seminar report that was held in Cape Town, in August 2005, to evaluate the relation between the African Union and the RECs. Different problems were highlighted in that document. The first problem mentioned was the proliferation of the sub regional organizations and multiple memberships of many African states in different RECs that complicated efforts to ensure harmonization and coordination. The second problem mentioned was member states’ reluctance to pool their sovereignty in favor of regional integration. Due to these and other infrastructural reasons, the RECs were blamed to be unable to implement key decisions emanating from the African Union in a timely manner.

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