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A Political Economy of African Regionalisms

An Overview of Asymmetrical Development

Wil Hout and M. A.M. Salih

This book analyses the main factors influencing the political economy of Africa’s asymmetrical regionalism, focusing on regional and sub-regional trade, investment, movement of people, goods and services. It pays particular attention to the way in which regional and sub-regional dynamics are impacted by extra-regional relations, such with the EU, US, China and India. Because African regionalism is influenced not only by economic processes, peace and security are also analysed as important factors shaping both regional and sub-regional relations and dynamics.
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Wil Hout and M. A.M. Salih

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Wil Hout and M. A.M. Salih

Chapter 1 gives an overview of the literature on comparative regionalism, in particular the scholarship on African regionalisms. It aim is to discuss the way in which scholarship on comparative regionalism may contribute to an understanding of the drivers of and actors in regionalism and their impact on asymmetrical development in Africa. The chapter distinguishes between regionalism and regionalization, where the former focuses on the process of region formation, and the latter refers to the increase of relationships of various sorts across a geographical area. It is argued that regions are not fixed entities, but should be seen as responses to a changing environment, where political, economic and social considerations play a role. The drivers of regionalisms are grouped into four categories (material, ideational, political and external), which operate either individually or in interaction. As to actors in regionalism, the chapter identifies states, domestic actors and individual action. Different theoretical perspectives privilege the role of some of these actors over others in regional frameworks.

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Wil Hout and M. A.M. Salih

Chapter 2 discusses the history of African regionalism from the Organization of African Unity to the African Union (AU). The chapter explores the architecture of African regional institutions, particularly the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), as the building blocks for African unity, regional integration and peace and security. The proposed establishment of the African Economic Community in the 1990s is discussed in detail, because this offers insights into the process of setting up the Regional Economic Communities. Further, it is emphasized that issues of peace and security, and governance and democracy, play an important role both at the continental level (in relation to the AU) and at the regional level (in relation to the RECs).

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Wil Hout and M. A.M. Salih

Chapter 3 focuses on the regional socio-economic asymmetries characterizing African development. It analyses economic growth over time, measured by an increase in gross domestic product (GDP) and per capita GDP, and human development, expressed as improvements in the human condition (education, health and life expectancy). Regional Economic Communities (RECs) differ considerably in terms of their populations and their endowments of land and natural resources. Asymmetries among and within RECs relate to the economic dominance of a few countries, as well as to substantial differences in the achievements on the Human Development Index and the incidence of multidimensional poverty.

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Wil Hout and M. A.M. Salih

Chapter 4 concentrates on political dimensions of African regionalisms. The chapter discusses the consequences of violent conflicts on the African continent, reflected in casualties and mass population displacement. Further, the chapter explains what consequences regional defence and security asymmetries have on conflict prevention and peace-keeping, particularly focusing on the activities of the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs). The chapter describes how conflicts have led to the strengthening of the position of certain African states, because they control the means to intervene in those conflicts. The chapter shows that there is no linear relationship between conflict incidence, peacefulness and democracy, on the one hand, and regional integration on the other.

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Wil Hout and M. A.M. Salih

Chapter 5 contains an analysis of intra-African trade. The chapter emphasizes that African regionalism, ever since the period of decolonization, has been aiming at strengthening the economic position of African economies, and making the countries and regions more self-reliant. The Abuja Treaty of 1991 aimed to establish an African Economic Community, comprising all existing regional arrangements. This aim was later subsumed in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which was signed in 2018. The analysis of actual intra-African trade patterns shows that the potential of the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to generate intra-regional or intra-African trade is limited to between 10 and 20 per cent of all trade. The chapter concludes by looking at the future of the RECs within the AfCFTA, and argues that their position is relatively unclear.

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Wil Hout and M. A.M. Salih

Chapter 6 focuses, first, on the long-standing political ties between Africa and the West, and compares these to the budding relationship between some of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and Africa. Next, the chapter discusses the asymmetries in trade relations between the African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and their most important partners, notably the European Union and the United States, and compares these to the patterns that are emerging in relations with the BRICS countries. The chapter further analyses the financial relations of the continent, in particular expressed in investment patterns, by paying attention to traditional investors, but explicitly also looking at the investment flowing from China to Africa. The last empirical analysis in the chapter focuses on trends in aid relationships, and compares the traditional donors with the new players on the geopolitical scene. The chapter concludes by emphasizing that the relationship between Africa and the rest of the world remains characterized by profound systemic asymmetries, which are obvious in a range of political, trade, investment and aid relations. While such asymmetries were traditionally characteristic of the relations between Africa and the West, they have increasingly also become visible in the context of South_South relations, particularly with the increasing activity of some of the BRICS states across Africa.

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Wil Hout and M. A.M. Salih

The concluding chapter wraps up the book by reflecting on the aspirations and realities of African regionalisms, as well as the asymmetries involved. The Conclusion emphasizes that continent-wide and regional forms of cooperation have represented small steps toward regional integration. African regionalisms, however, remain subject to substantial power asymmetries among African states, with some of them actually being hegemonic within their own region. At the same time, it is argued that the smaller countries can derive protection from the institutional provisions governing the regional frameworks. The Conclusion pays attention to external asymmetries, particularly visible in the relationships between African countries and regional organizations and China. It finishes with a short reflection on the future of African regionalisms, in particular the steps towards establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).