The integration process in Africa started under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in the aftermath of independence. Since then, numerous initiatives have been set in motion and legal framework devised to accelerate the process. These include the Lagos Plan of Action and the Final Act, the Abuja Treaty, Sirte Declaration, creation of the African Union with its New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the Accra Declaration on Union Government.
The integration approach geared to the establishment of the African Economic Community (AEC) set forth by the Abuja Treaty was regional in orientation, and was anchored on the RECs which constitute the pillars and building blocks of the Community. These regional communities have made tremendous progress in their respective domains since they were created, but the pace of implementation of programmes is still slow and needs the support of the integration players.On this score, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa have attained the phase of free trade area, whereas IGAD is still at the level of coordination and harmonization of its Members’ activities. The East African Community (EAC) is the only community that has attained the stage of Customs Union, and this since January 2005, and expects to launch the Common Market by the year 2010.
Concerning RECs projections, the COMESA and ECOWAS are on course to achieve a Customs Union this year 2009. ECCAS and SADC plan to launch theirs by the year2010.
A comparison of the integration calendar of the RECs and that of the Abuja Treaty shows that with the exception of Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) and the CEN-SAD, other communities are clearly ahead in terms of the time frames set by the Treaty to create a Customs Union in each REC by 2017. However, other communities are still behind and facing numerous challenges amongst which are: lack of financial and human resources, multi-membership of several RECs, non-elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers, inadequate infrastructure, non-application of the economic integration protocols, lack of political will, insufficient coordination between Pan-African institutions, lack of unity on the part of the development partners, etc.
In view of the spirit of the Sirte Declaration of 9.9.1999, which called for acceleration of the integration process and shortening the time frames fixed by Abuja Treaty, there is need to agree on a continental framework for coordination, convergence and collaboration among the RECs to achieve the ultimate objective, namely, the integration of the continent and African Economic Community. The consensual framework between Member States, RECs and AUC, called the dubbed Minimum Integration Programme (MIP), will serve as a connecting link or common denominator for African continental integration players.
The Minimum Integration Programme consists of different activities on which the RECs and parties involved should agree upon to speed up and bring to a successful conclusion the process of regional and continental integration. The MIP encompasses the feasible objectives defined in the Strategic Plan of the AU (four years) and will be implemented by the RECs, Member States and the African Union Commission (AUC) in collaboration with Africa’s development partners.
The MIP is built on the virtues of variable geometry approach which permits the RECs to progress at different pace in the process of integration. To this end, the RECs will continue to implement their respective programmes (considered as priority programmes) and at the same time, attempt to carry out the activities contained in the MIP, the contents of which were identified by the RECs themselves in close collaboration with the AUC.
The priority sectors retained by the RECs for the first phase of MIP (2009-2012), are as follows: free movement of persons, goods, services and capital; peace and security; energy and infrastructure; agriculture; trade; industry; investment and statistics. Apart from these priority sectors, the RECs have deemed it absolutely necessary to embark upon urgent activities, which are considered as vital support measures in the domains of political affairs, science and technology and social affairs.
For each of the above-mentioned sectors, the objectives to be attained at different levels of implementation are spelt out and tagged on to a series of activities and priority projects to be undertaken by the concerned parties.
The objectives of the first phase of the MIP are:
- Progressive elimination of tariff barriers (TB) in all the RECs;
- Elimination of non- tariff barriers (NTB) in the RECs;
- Simplification and harmonization of rules of origin;
- Signing of partnership agreements between RECs;
- Facilitation of customs procedures and creation of customs union in each REC with a common external tariff;
- Total free movement of persons in the regions and partial free movement between the regions;
- Free movement of goods in the regions;
- Progressive free movement of services and capital in the regions;
- Conflict Prevention and resolution and post-conflict development in Africa;
- Infrastructural development in Africa;
- Acceleration of CAADP implementation;
- Industrial sector Development in Africa;
- Establishing a regional and continental framework to attract investors;
- Development of educational system in Africa
- Promotion of the use of Science and Technology to eradicate poverty in Africa
- Guaranteeing Africans access to primary health care
- Promoting women’s’ participation in economic development
- Organization of democratic elections and political power succession
- Improvement of governance in RECs
- Devising tools for harmonization of statistics in Africa
- Enhancing the capacities of RECs, AUCs and Member States
The MIP embodies all regional and continental programmes intended to give a full picture of all the existing initiatives, identify the financing problems hampering their implementation, and try to address them by mobilizing further resources which are required for their implementation. The MIP contains action plans for each community and RECs, as well as an action plan for the AUC, including a monitoring and evaluation mechanism, all in order to put in place the conditions needed for implementation and success of the programme.
In view of the huge financing requirements of the integration process in general, and the MIP in particular, this study recommends the creation of an "Integration Fund" for financing the programme. To this end, it advocates three key financing sources namely: internal sources, African financial institutions, and external sources. After identifying the potential sources of funding the MIP, the AUC will undertake a series of consultations with RECs to develop a strategy for funding the MIP.
The major obstacles that can impede or slow down the implementation of the MIP are mainly lack of financial and human resources in RECs and AUC, lack of leadership and coordination on the part of the AUC, the incompatibility of national policies and the regional approaches, and to a lesser degree, countries’ multi-membership of RECs. In this regard, the AUC, working closely with the RECs, will have to take the necessary measures to remedy all the constraints, thereby speeding up the process of continental integration.