21 Feb 2018

The long process to a single Central African economic bloc

Central Africa may soon create a single, unified regional economic community.

Central Africa has three major regional mechanisms (RMs) that coordinate its activities, including the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS, established in 1981), which is the regional economic community (REC) for Central Africa that is officially recognised by the African Union (AU). Recently, however, states in the region have agreed to step up efforts to merge the three bodies into one regional economic bloc.

The two other RMs in the region are the Central Africa Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC, established in 1994), and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR, established in 2003). Many countries in Central Africa are members of two or more of these RMs; the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo, for example, participate in all three. Such duplication results in overlapping and unsustainable resource demand.

The duplication of regional bodies in Central Africa creates an unsustainable resource demand

The AU alerted African countries to the need to rationalise the functions of regional economic communities as early as 2006. In response, Central African leaders invited ECCAS and CEMAC to set up a steering committee (COPIL) aimed at merging the region’s integration bodies to form a single REC at the 13th Conference of Heads of State and Government of ECCAS in 2007. This resulted in the creation of COPIL/CER-AC in 2009, with Cameroon as its chair. But the process stalled until 2013 when regional leaders adopted the joint decision on the creation of a steering committee for the rationalisation of RECs in Central Africa.

The COPIL/CER-AC held its fourth meeting in Yaoundé in November last year, amid concerns over the financial sustainability of RMs. CEMAC, for example, had just disclosed that it had to write off US$350 million in unpaid contributions from its members. The ICGLR also struggles to fulfil its mandate due to a lack of resources.

Member states accepted the principle of a merging ECCAS, CEMAC and ICGLR

At the November meeting, member states accepted the principle of a merger, supporting  the integration of ECCAS, CEMAC and ICGLR into a new single REC.

This could bring greater cohesion to the region and allow its members to focus on priority issues, including economic cooperation and integration, infrastructure development and transnational threats to security and development.

The process will be challenging, particularly in seeking to harmonise different legal systems and institutional capacities. The inclusion of the ICGLR in the process also poses its own political questions, as CEMAC and ECCAS do not have the legal capacity to make decisions that affect this organisation. However, the agreement to establish a single Central African REC is a step in the right direction.

Agnes Ebo’o, ENACT regional organised crime observatory coordinator – Central Africa, ISS

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