Handbooks of Research on International Political Economy series
Edited by David Deese
Chapter 12: African regionalism: the complex role of regional trade
In May 1963, President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana stood before the leaders of 32 newly independent African states and proclaimed: We must unite now or perish. I am confident that by our concerted effort and determination, we shall lay here the foundations for a continental Union of African States . . . Independence is only the prelude to a new and more involved struggle for the right to conduct our own economic and social affairs; to construct our society according to our aspirations, unhampered by crushing and humiliating neo-colonialist controls and interference. (Nkrumah 2013) He called for a common currency and market, common development policies, and a central bank, as well as a common foreign policy and military. The next day, the leaders founded the Organization of African Unity (OAU), a weaker union than the United States of Africa that Nkrumah had dreamed of, but still an expression of their aspirations for true independence from colonial influence. Fifty years later, the African Union (the successor to the OAU) declared 2013 the Year of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance. Nkrumah and his fellow leaders’ vision from 50 years ago helps explain the regional trade agreements we see throughout Africa today as well as the enduring idea for a continental economic union. Yet, as this chapter shows, the African regional trade agreements which are meant as building blocks to the continent-wide union have a long way to go before accomplishing even this part of the pan-African dream.
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