Regional integration amid changing global balances: Considering the prospects for an African Economic Community
Panel organiser: Christopher Changwe Nshimbi, Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn), Faculty of Humanities, University of Pretoria, South Africa.
This panel seeks to enhance the understanding, application and progress of regional integration as a strategy for socioeconomic transformation and development in Africa; with a particular focus on borders and human mobility. Undeterred by the temporary backlash against mega-regional trade agreements in Europe, Asia-Pacific and America, Africa is proceeding with plans to establish a continental free trade area (CFTA) and an African Economic Community (AEC) by 2028. It has firmed up this commitment through rounds of CFTA negotiations since 2015. A well-designed and implemented African FTA promises great gains. To set African countries on a path of transformation from exporters of commodities to producers of manufactured goods. However, two issues seem to hamper progress towards a fully-fledged and functional AEC. First, nation-state borders founded on the principles of delimitation drawn at the 1884-85 Berlin Conference and the Westphalian state model. Despite efforts to integrate, the respective members of the African Union (AU) are simultaneously determined to strengthen the same colonial boundaries that separate them, as they consolidate their rule and assert the sovereignty of their states. Second, in enforcing the borders, African countries maintain more restrictive migration regimes against one another but more open to the outside world. This seriously challenges and frustrates integration and intracontinental mobilites; ignoring the fact that migration and cross-border movements have historically characterized African populations, especially in contiguous border areas of African nation-states. Can Africa learn from other world regions which have negotiated FTAs to ensure inclusive processes of integration? What is the purpose of (post)colonial borders, when Africa seeks integration? Does the removal of obstacles to free movement of persons (besides capital, goods and services) provide a viable approach to the transformation of socioeconomic structures and establishment of a sustainable economic base in Africa? What promise do circulations and exchanges of knowledge and ideas hold for Africa? Can the understanding, application and progress of integration as an approach to Africa’s development live up to expectation?