Security and economic development in Africa today are more effectively achieved through regional formations than through the African Union. Discuss.



After colonization of African countries, the member states have come together to advance the economic development as well as the security situation in the continent. This has been driven by the Pan-African ideals aimed at forming shared unity and creating a common African identity. African leaders and scholars have underlined the importance of promoting national sovereignty and backing up the use of a more gradual approach toward regional integration in order to safeguard national security interests and economic development (Khadiagala, 2011). In 1963, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was established to tackle African continent problems, and it was based on Pan-African ideals. Nonetheless, the OAU was faced with some challenges associated with the Post-Cold War era; it was later replaced with the African Union (AU). In 1999, the late Libyan President Gadhafi proposed the formation of the United States of Africa, a body that would represent the economic and security welfare of the continent. The idea of the United States of Africa was based on Pan-Africanism, but the AU was instead formed in 2002, thus replacing the OAU (Tieku, 2004). In addition, regional economic communities (RECs) such as ECOWAS have been formed to enhance regional development and security as well. However, the debate has been whether the regional formation or the AU can better aid realize the economic and security development of Africa.

The paper is based on two case studies of regional organizations in Africa to show how security and economic development are more effectively achieved through regional formations. In addition, how the African Union (AU) has failed in the past has also been discussed. 

The Continental and Regional Debate

The proponents of Pan-Africanism and continental approach to economic and security matters such as Udogu (2010) and Goottschalk and Schmidt (2004) pointed out that the establishment of the AU was necessary to tackle African challenges that could not have been solved by the OAU. For instance, the inclusion of the Constitutive Act provided the AU with executive powers to intervene in cases its member states experienced grave circumstances (Wiliams, 2004). In addition, it has the power to intervene when unconstitutional government changes take place (Tieku, 2004). The AU is a continent-wide organisation and when it was founded, it was perceived as better suited in terms of resolving conflicts compared to neighboring countries which may not be impartial (Moller, 2009). Moreover, the AU provides a platform whereby all-African leaders can come together and discuss economic and security agendas in the African context (Packer & Rukare, 2002; Wiliams, 2007). To some degree, the AU has played key roles in peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Darfur, and Burundi (Moller, 2009). From an economic development point of view, the AU is believed to have advanced the African’s continent role in the global economy and enabled intra-African trade growth (Wonnenberg, 2011).

  Regional integration entails security and commercial policy that reduces civil wars and trade barriers between states that are in the same region and have come together. Mwasha (2015) established that “geographical proximity, historical, cultural, and ideological similarities, and a common language among the Partner States are some of the primary factors required in the formation of effective regional integration. For example, the East African Community (EAC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) are examples of sub-regional formations that have been formed based on the aforementioned factors.  Regional formation and subregional integrations can be used to enhance both security and economic developments in Africa (Mwasha, 2015). For instance, to promote peace and economic development, ECOWAS ensures trade and peacekeeping in its region as part of the regional formation.

Subregional integrations are not formed with the intent of opposing African integration, but rather to aid in achieving Pan-Africanism. The proponents have argued that the subregional approach is advantageous because it could help in the realization of security and economic development in the context of the African continent (Saitoti, 2002). From a theoretical perspective, there is a connection between the AU and the formation of RECs, although the link is not well-defined (Ajayi, 2008). According to Khadiagala (2011), subregional advocates have claimed that Africa’s regions from a logical framework for integration because the continental approach has missed the political, historical, and cultural differences among African countries

With reference to economic development, regional integration via the strengthening of regional economies, results in increased productivity, improved trade, and attracting foreign investments (FI) (Johnson, 2007). Subsequently, they must be adopted to advance the economy of different regions, and eventually the entire continent. Based on this perception, the African states have delegated the economic integration information of regional blocks as referred to as the RECs. The RECs have been used to enhance continuous rapprochement in economic development. The regional formations thus represent the sub-regions, and they include ECOWAS, which has played a major role in economic and security development compared to the AU (African Economic Outlook, 2013). The ECOWAS was founded by countries that have shared a single currency, and colonized by the French, hence language similarities (Piccolino, 2016).


The AU, Regional Formations and Security Developments

The ECOWAS is a regional formation in Western Africa that brings a number of countries together. The organization has so far proved to be more effective than AU when it comes to security affairs and economic growth. The ECOWAS in terms of security politics has emerged as more effective when it comes to the resolution of regional civil conflicts because it is not only geographically located, but also politically and culturally near to the origins of the conflicts (Ajayi, 2008). The closeness has positioned the ECOWAS in a better position which makes it understand security matters, hence necessitating the ability to act upon the issues promptly. The success of ECOWAS can be explained using the Ivory Crisis which was a result of a political power struggle between Alassane Quattara and incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. Both the AU and ECOWAS were part of the conflict resolution aided by the UN.

According to Piccolino (2016), ECOWAS was developed and shaped by the military decision to deploy a mission in the 1990s under the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) as part of ending the Liberian civil war. With regard to the Ivory Coast contested elections, AU seemed to support the Ouattara, but Nigeria and South Africa were influenced by diverse geopolitical interests, and as a result, the actions of the AU were blocked (IRIN, 2011). The AU’s recommendations to have the elections repeated did not result in effective action, and other AU member states supported the idea of not contributing to the  AU  peacekeeping mission  (Security Council Report SCR, 2012). Thus, the AU’s diplomatic efforts were perceived to have failed because the most powerful AU member states did not support the efforts. The conflicting interests of the AU and ECOWAS member states resulted in the failure. Through the use of the ‘Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution and Security’, the EOWAS played a major role in conflict management and peacekeeping in the region (ISS, 2012).

After ECOWAS replaced the AU, it responded to the Ivorian political crisis and suspended Ivory Coast from decision-making bodies and, ignored the AU recommendations (Olonissakin, 2011). In addition, the institution continued to negotiate and eventually ended the crisis and promoted the transfer of power to the duly elected leader (Okumu, 2009). The failure of the AU, in this case, was attributed to the hegemonic domination by Nigeria on the ECOWAS, and the absence of powerful countries in the regional to back the decisions by the AU. This can be demonstrated by other conflicts in the region including Sierra Leone and Liberia (Sperling, 2011). Thus, there are inherent and structural elements that continue to limit the effectiveness of AU while responding to conflict and promoting peacekeeping. For instance, the lack of governance in member states, and the weak structural framework of the AU and other regional institutions have attributed to the lagged economic and security development in Africa (Okumu, 2009). Additionally, inherent institutional deficiencies and a lack of technical and financial capacities have also resulted in Africa’s security challenges.

The AU and ECOWAS as well as other regional formations have not been fully effective in promoting both security and economic developments because they were formed based on international frameworks which solve different issues. Additionally, most African countries, especially West Africa depend on their colonies in terms of ensuring security developments and economic growth. This has limited the ability to have a united AU which can be effective in terms of promoting security and economic growth in Africa. In such instances, conflict of interest arises between the powerful external factors and the African institutions. There is a conflict of interests between African countries because other than being members of the AU, they are also members of EAC and ECOWAS (Francis, 2010). For example, the presence accompanied by the intervention of France in the case of the Ivorian conflict minimized the Nigerian dominance over ECOWAS’ participation in security decisions (Baregu & Landsberg, 2003).

Economic Development, AU and Regional Formations

The EAC is composed of the Republics of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, and the United Republic of Tanzania, and it has its headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania (Mathieson, 2016).  The EAC also share some similarities such as language, geopolitical location, social and cultural ideals, and proximity to each other (Eyster, 2014). The EAC has ensured economic development by facilitating the movement of trade goods through Kenya to the other member states. The ports in EAC also link the countries to Europe, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Future projections have indicated that the EAC compared to the AU could enhance trade in the region because the countries can pool their resources together and share their similarities to promote regional economic integration (Eyster, 2014). The EAC was formed with the intent of ensuring that the economically and geographically homogenous neighbors could promote trade. For example, “Under the EAC Customs Union, more than half of these imports are already imported duty-free, not only from the EU but from the entire world” (European Commission, 2015, p. 2).  Thus, the EAC has liberalized trade, which has not been achieved by the AU.  

The EAC has realized some achievements that could not have been achieved through the AU. For instance, the Customs Union Protocol has been established as a common force while the Customs Management Act resulted in the implementation of the Customs Union in 2009 (Makame, 2012). The EAC is also recognized and this has resulted in an increase in both inter-regional as well as intra-regional trade. Subsequently, intra-EAC Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) have also increased compared to what the AU has done in East Africa. The establishment of One Stop Border Posts and the ‘EAC Customs Valuation Manual’ – are some of the other achievements realized by the EAC.

Similarly, the ECOWAS was established in the 1970s with the intent of promoting economic integration. Geda and Kibret (2002) pointed out that although there have been challenges faced by ECOWAS, the body has been part of the regional integration initiatives to promote economic development in West Africa. Even with the existence of the AU, most African countries continue to remain poor in terms of economic development. However, regional formations such as EAC and ECOWAs have played a major role in promoting trade by reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers that hinder economic development (Reihe 2007).

In spite of the strides made by African regional groupings, a report by the FAO (n.d) indicated that the groupings have in the past been unsuccessful. The primary reasons for the lack of success in the past for the regional groupings are such as macroeconomic disequilibria, narrow tax base, lack of trade finance, and over-valued and foreign debt service burdens (FAO, nd). In addition, the protective import substitution strategies that were adopted by a majority of the African countries from the time of independence led to a host of regulations that restricted trade. Subsequently, the economic development of Africa as a result of regional commitments has been unfavorable. Issues related to economic disparities as well as fears of economic polarization have limited economic development as a result of regional formations. Fraser (n.d) has also noted that politics and power struggles between SADC and EAC with regard to the civil resolution in DRC/Rwanda have hindered both economic and security development.

Failure of the AU

According to Powell (2005), “the transition from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU) ushered in far-reaching changes to the pan-African peace and security agenda, particularly with respect to the parameters of sovereignty and intervention for human protection purposes” (p. 1). Nonetheless, the formation and operation of the AU to ensure security and economic development have not been without any challenges. The same challenges that undermine OAU have followed the AU and the problems revolve around political interests and the fragility of African States. Fraser (n.d) contended that AU has not done much with regard to economic development and this has been attributed to competition, the overlap of agenda, and the different interests of AU member states. For example, the Post-colonial agenda and the regionalization initiatives overlap and compete with the AU, and this has subsequently hindered economic and security developments. Kimenyi (2016) adds that even after the existence of the AU for more than a decade, poverty has remained as a major challenge in the African continent. For example, poverty is widespread across the continent, Africa is at the periphery of the global economy and governance system, and women have continued to be exploited and oppressed. The economic and security agendas of the AU have failed as a result of a number of factors: limited public representations, weak leadership organs, low financing, conflict of interests, and lack of governance and integrity.

Security remains a major challenge in the African Continent. The security challenge has been linked to violent mobilization by different religious and ethnic groups. In spite of the existence of the AU and its mandate to intervene, the body has failed to restore peace and security. According to Kimenyi (2016), the AU “has been unable to deal directly with this violence, as seen in intractable civil conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan, as well as the increasing threat of terrorism by groups such as Boko Haram, al-Shabab, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)” (p. 30).  However, this does not mean that the AU has been a total failure because through African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), peace and security have been established in Somalia. Similarly, Weiss and Welz (2014) pointed out that the OAU (which is now AU) failed in Chad, and in 1994 it was observed as Rwanda was engulfed in civil conflicts. Following the failures, the AU was established in 2002.

The AU has also failed in restoring peace in Somalia, Libya, Darfur, and Burundi. In 2003, the AU operated the African Mission in Burundi (AMIB) which incorporated both South African with Ethiopian and Mozambican military troops. However, the AMIB failed to end the civil strife, and the United Nations intervened to fully stabilize the country (Weiss & Welz, 2014). In addition, it is until the AU was faced with challenges in dealing with the war in Somalia until AMISOM with the support of UN-provided military troops in 2007. In order to end the genocide in Southern Sudan, the African Union–United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was founded, but the AU was unable to put to stop the ongoing genocide. Another example is Libya in 2011 during the Arab Spring and the AU once again lost in terms of restoring peace in this African country. Weiss and Welz (2014) have pointed out that politics resulted in to lose of negotiations in Libya by AU. For instance, after the AU committee arrived in Libya, it was faced with hostility and a lack of support from some countries.


In this paper, the primary discussion was that security and economic development in Africa today are more effectively achieved through regional formations than through the African Union. The AU was founded on the Pan-Africanism ideals to address economic and security issues facing member States in the continent. As illustrated by the case of ECOWAS, it is clear that AU compared has failed where the regional formation has succeeded. For instance, in Ivory, ECOWAS influenced the decisions to keep and restore peace in the region, while the efforts by AU failed. In addition, ECOWAS has promoted free trade, a goal that has yet to be achieved by the AU. Additionally, the regional formations as well as the AU have conflicting interests that overlap. However, in terms of economic development, ECOWAS and EAC have resulted to free trade and minimized trade barriers as well.

The AU has failed in both economic and security agendas because of limited public representations, weak leadership organs, low financing, and conflict of interests, as well as the lack of governance and integrity. In the security domain, ECOWAS which is a regional formation has emerged as effective compared to the AU. Conflict of interests and lack of adequate financing has resulted in competition between AU and regional formations. Nonetheless, the inherent structural deficiencies faced by AU and the regional formations have resulted to the conclusion that security and economic issues in Africa require strong organizations.

The differing interests between AU and ECOWAS member states have also resulted in divisions as well as weaknesses in the continental and regional formations. The regional formations compared to the AU have financial strength, and until such a challenge is solved, the AU will continue to be weaker in terms of security and economic development. The AU has failed in Somalia, Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, and Libya as it has been unable to restore peace. Moreover, AU is formed based on the European-based frameworks that solve European problems rather than African problems. Thus, AU can promote economic and security-related problems after it has been developed to solve African problems. The inclination of member states to their colonial masters when solving political and civil strives has also affected the effectiveness of the AU, thus making regional formations more superior.



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