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Europe's Integration and Africa's: Any Message for U.S. Policy?

By Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center

At the beginning of September, the New YorkTimes praised European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi's decision to ease the Eurozone crisis by throwing the ECB's financial clout behind protecting Spain and Italy from financial collapse. This was seen as its biggest steps yet in stirring the European Union (EU) toward a "more federal Europe" rather than a "collection of nation states that often seem to share little more than a common currency and a slumping regional economy."

How relevant is the EU's move toward "centralized control" over government spending and economic policies of member states for Africa and US-Africa policy? Relevance has to do with the reality of global integration. This is where political leaders and policy-makers are challenged by unprecedented interdependence and connectivity placing the fate of national economies beyond sovereign control. 

The European crisis that has brought this reality home in a part of the world considered the home of what an integrated economic and security community should look, like short of an American-styled 'United States.' The New York Times also noted that the task ahead for the eurozone's leaders was not to let up on "efforts to unify the currency union for the long term, including the creation of Pan-European banking, fiscal and political unions." But the bottom-line is preserving Europe's single market – exactly what Africa must achieve.

This raises a host of considerations. Among others, there is the realization that nation-states, on their own, can no longer guarantee economic security in a globalized world; that is, unless they regionally band together to create economies of scale in expanding markets that attract sufficient trade and investment for propelling economic growth and development.

Because of globalization there is an increasing collective sense among national leaders in diverse regions of the world that, at the very least, supranational trade integration has become fundamental for generating economic growth and development. So it is with Africa. There, the goal is the fast-tracking of a Continental African Free Trade Area (CAFTA) within five years.

Regional integration in Africa is variable and uneven. The fact that the EU is as much a 'security community' encompassing an economic integration agenda as an 'economic community' resonates in Africa. All of Africa's regional economic communities (RECs) as African Union pillars are as preoccupied with peace and security-building via mechanisms of conflict prevention, resolution, and management as they are with deepening regional cooperation. As such, the RECs are confronting 'chickens coming home to roost' resulting from the continent's colonial fragmentation and failure at decolonizing this partition.

Only the East African Community (EAC) is explicitly committed to political union in recovering an advanced state of integration achieved under colonialism. The European crisis emphasizes the necessity of political union almost as a precondition to successful economic integration. Otherwise, the essential precondition for economic union is the harmonization of national economies before monetary union. Because of the Franco-German politics of the German unification-European integration tradeoff wherein France was loath to cede any degree of sovereignty, the upshot was a badly designed euro and today's crisis.

The issue of sovereignty bedevils African integration as well. But Africa has a chance to get integration right. This means a 'variable geometric' and 'variable speed' approach accommodating different levels of development among national economies and different national political agendas. At this point, if Africa can, at regional and continental levels, perfect market integration, that would constitute major progress in the continent's de-fragmentation.

From an American perspective, were integration to be elevated to the top of the US-Africa policy agenda, Washington could signal a newly strategic vision in its relations with Africa. Indicative of this potential is the recently unveiled US-East African Community Trade and Investment Partnership. It aims to promote EAC integration. Given President Barack Obama's East African roots, the EAC is a fitting place to start in elaborating a regionalization of US-African relations.

But why stop with a trade and investment partnership? Why not move toward an EAC-US Forum covering the entire political, economic and security panoply of US policy in East Africa? Given the EAC's free trade initiative with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), revival of the SADC-US Forum could also be contemplated. Washington has a chance to distinguish its approach to African regionalism from the EU's regionally destabilizing initiative of trying to impose Economic Partnership Agreements that are more for the benefit of Europe than for Africa's integration. While Europe sorts out its crisis, African integration could become a mutually beneficial learning curve for both America and Africa.

About the Author

Francis A. Kornegay, Jr.

Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and U.S.-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial U.S.-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in U.S.-Africa relations.    Read more