African Union heading fast towards integration despite challenges

African Union heading fast towards integration despite challenges

Hailing African nations' progress on integration, experts say internal strife, lack of connectivity, concerns on sovereignty slow pace

By James Tasamba

KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) - Though experts believe that the EU has evolved into the world's sole successful geo-economic bloc so far, a report has suggested that the African continent is also moving fast towards integration.

The report, released recently by the African Union (AU), shows that its regional blocs in East, West, and Southern Africa have completed almost 75% of the commitments toward economic integration.

The countries in these blocs are moving towards taking such steps as common passports, visa-free travel, guaranteed residence and work permits, and free trade zones, the report said.

According to AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, fostering regional integration would spur the continent's socio-economic transformation.

Though significant progress has been made in thematic areas like individuals' free movement, customs unions, and tariff and non-tariff barriers, the pace of regional integration has generally been slow in some regions, he admitted.

The report also expressed concern that the implementation of regional infrastructure projects has been slow due to financial challenges.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, a politics and public affairs researcher, said institutional weakness and some countries' emphasis on preserving national sovereignty, coupled with the lack of transport corridors, were hindering greater integration.

"Moving forward on key infrastructure such as trains and railways that are well developed would increase the chances of trading among countries," he said.

- Poor transport linkage

However, many of Africa's railway networks were built by colonial companies to link mines to ports, rather than countries to each other.

Only 800,000 kilometers (about 497,100 miles) of the total 2.8 million km road network in sub-Saharan Africa are paved, according to a 2018 report by the Export-Import Bank of India.

In Africa, some 80%-90% of freight goes by road.

"We have to develop infrastructure, strengthen our institutions, and develop air links. Look at our water transport. How much water transport do we have internally within Africa? Many of our rivers are not navigable; we could make them navigable, but we don't have the technology," said Mutebi.

Ismael Buchanan, a senior lecturer at the Department of Political Science at the University of Rwanda, said that though Africa has the potential to integrate like the EU, it could take a long time.

"We can draw some parallels and similarities between the EU and the AU concerning their goals. Although they arrive at their respective goals from different experiences, the aspirations are the same," said Buchanan.

- Challenges to integration

The other greatest challenge to Africa's integration, according to Mutebi, is that some countries see aspects of integration, such as free mobility and open skies, as compromising their sovereignty.

Buchanan said that while the EU hopes to use regional integration to promote peace, stimulate economic growth, achieve solidarity, and strengthen their international stature, Africa has had its share of violent civil and inter-state wars among member countries.

"When the EU implements a law. It is binding on countries. The AU laws are not similarly implemented by countries. African governments need to take this matter seriously," he said.

The Organization of African Unity (OAU) which was set up in 1963, was replaced by the AU in 1999 as a continental union consisting of 55 members. The bloc was formally founded in 2001 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and launched a year later in Durban, South Africa. The aim of the AU was to integrate the continent by demolishing barriers set up by colonial rulers of the past centuries.

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