While the establishment of a free trade area is categorically provided for as one of precursor stages to the AEC, it is appears to have been envisioned as being established primarily at the regional level (article 2 (d)), and not necessarily at the continental level. This was very much in line with the strategy to build the AEC through the RECs. The AEC Treaty did not get into the modalities of the establishment of the prospective free trade area, neither did it mention a further protocol in that regard. Whether this omission was deliberate, is subject to speculation, but perhaps it may have been based on the belief that RECs would be the drivers of free trade areas as opposed to a focused continental framework or mechanism.
African Economic Community
With the purpose to bring together scholars and scholarship that highlights original and innovative thinking in IEL as it pertains to the African continent, the idea was to follow up with the existing tradition that consists in engaging with new scholarship and research on the continent’s contributions to, and involvement with IEL. This task proved at the same time challenging and quite rewarding. The call attracted responses of high calibres as reflected by the quality and quantity of abstracts received, as well as the global representation of the submissions.
In my view variable geometry is likely to further slow down the implementation of the AfCFTA because it is a way to accommodate less advantageous countries or countries unwilling to move as fast as others. Even if variable geometry is the only way to move forward in trade agreements of the 21th century as some have argued, it makes trade liberalization more complicated and slows down integration initiatives. More detailed research on variable geometry from an African perspective needs to be undertaken because the continent cannot afford the potential failure of the AfCFTA.
The conclusion of the AfCFTA comes in the wake of global trade facing a lot of uncertainty, with more countries becoming more protectionist and the global world trade order facing collapse due to rising tensions. Despite all this, Africa’s regional integration agenda remains at the core. The Protocol on Investments is meant to be continental wide project to protect and promote investments in Africa. The ultimate goal for the AU’s regional integration objectives should be to have one investment framework to regulate the whole continent.
This blog post does not focus on the different reasons that makes integration difficult. Rather, it argues that the structure of the agreements of African Union (AU) contributes to the lack of political commitment among leaders which has been a missing ingredient for successful integration in Africa.
A proper assessment of Rudahindwa’s monograph on the subject of establishing the African Economic Community (AEC) is one that cannot exclude the currents of ongoing reform efforts and the extent to which they are able to move the continent faster towards the dream of achieving the AEC. This invariably raises some methodological questions that border on multidisciplinary approach to regionalism, and the issue of context. The author highlights these two imperatives in the monograph. By using the concept of “developmental regionalism” as an analytical prism, the author situates the discussion within a multidisciplinary paradigm.
Jonathan Bashi Rudahindwa’s monograph on regionalism in Africa is a timely addition to the literature on the topic. His focus is primarily on the creation of the African Economic Community (AEC). Created by treaty in 1991 the AEC lays down a path for Africa to follow towards the creation of an African common market. This is to be done in stages culminating in an economic and monetary union. The AEC thus seems to be a critical landmark in the evolution towards African economic unification.
The book traces the evolution of regionalism and regional integration on the continent, from the Organization of African Unity through to the African Union but, unlike earlier treatises on regionalism, Bashi Rudahindwa rightly places emphasis on the role of the legal framework. He draws comparisons with other regional economic integration projects: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Common Market of the Southern Cone (MERCOSUR), the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the European Union (EU), to argue for greater emphasis in the AU on capacity building, and the need to utilize law to support regulatory and institutional frameworks to facilitate trade and industrialization, and interventionist measures aimed at promoting structural transformation.
The hallmark of Jonathan Bashi’s masterful analysis of the uniquely multifarious and variegated processes which set Africa apart from all other regional integration theatres (the Americas, Europe, Southeast Asia) is its lucidity. His organising concept of ‘regional developmentalism through law’ as distinct from regionalism per se or regional economic integration is a genial critical and discursive move. It effectively critiques and corrects the concealed neoliberalism of integrationist discourse by 1) restoring the means-end relationship of regionalism to development, and 2) foregrounding the centrality and polyvalence of law as mechanism. For Bashi, the role of rules is not to serve markets, but to fashion, construct, and condition them.
Rudahindwa’s contribution lies in his articulation of the need for institutions and legal frameworks to reflect these multiple objectives of African RECs. In this regard, he ably demonstrates how the specific objectives of NAFTA, ASEAN, MERCOSUR and the EU have informed the nature of the institutions that manage their respective organisations and their legal frameworks, including how they address issues such as the relationship between the laws of the organisations and their member states, the bindingness of agreed commitments and laws, and dispute settlement.