Abstract

At least in terms of pronouncements and declaration, the political commitment to regional integration in sub-Saharan Africa has been very high, despite changes in ideology and approaches to economic development during the past three decades or so. Indeed, many African countries have, for example, equated increased intra-African trade with self-reliant policies required to break from the economically “dependent” trading patterns established during the colonial period (Berg and Associates, 1988). However, most of the available evidence suggests that the African regional integration experience has been rather disappointing, to say the least (e.g., Foroutan, 1993; Elbadawi, 1997). Some of the problems are related to the design features of the African regional integration schemes, such as the lack of mechanism for compensation in cases where benefits were very skewed (Fine and Yeo, 1994). A further and more fundamental criticism is that African regional integration schemes were conceived under a regime of foreign exchange controls and restrictive unilateral trade policies. This has not only aggravated the problems of highly skewed benefits between countries within the schemes (Foroutan, 1993), but it has also rendered many of the arrangements adopted by these schemes to be incompatible with the post-mid-1980s waves of unilateral foreign trade and foreign exchange liberalization, adopted by many reforming African countries as part of their structural adjustment programs. Another fundamental criticism is that given the too similar set of endowments across African countries, regional integration schemes should not be expected to be better than unilateral trade liberalization in terms of trade creation (Collier and Gunning, 1993).