Focused Discussions, Race & Society

The Evolution of African Regional Organizations Working Group I

CIRS Working Group on The Evolution of African Regional Organizations

On January 29 and 30, 2023, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) at Georgetown University Qatar held a book manuscript workshop under its project, “The Evolution of African Regional Organizations.” Several international and regional scholars were invited to present their papers on various African Regional Organizations (ROs) operational on the African continent. During the meeting, they discussed various issues such as regionalism, African voices, and problems, gender, colonial legacies, Pan-Arabism, and Pan-Africanism and received extensive and in-depth commentary from the group.

The initial discussion was initiated by Lynda Iroulo, with her paper, “From the Organization of African Unity to the African Union.” She outlined the transition of the African Union (AU) from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and argued that the Pan-African solidarity norm is a double-edged for the AU. Iroulo highlighted that while solidarity norms were at the heart and center of AU and bound the members together, it was also detrimental to them. Thus, she argued it is important for the organization’s future to not only continue on the solidarity path but to strengthen and advance it to other levels of interaction that would bridge the gap between talk and action.

Densua Mumford, then discussed the issues related to the “Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).” Providing a comprehensive analysis of ECOWAS, she argued that since its establishment in 1975, the regional organization has had a complex history of innovation and triumph, inertia and tragedy. She examined the primary aims of the political leaders and bureaucrats steering the ECOWAS, the regional organization’s fragile relationship with West African citizens, and its inventive institutional changes over time. Her paper aims to study these various interactions in light of the shifting global and regional political-economic landscapes.

The focus of the discussion was then shifted to Afro-Arab relations, with a paper on “Evolution of the Afro-Arab Region and the Creation of the Arab League,” by Ahmed Salem & Mohamed Ashour. They began by explaining the inclusion of the Arab League and its importance within the African ROs. Outlining the relevance of the Arab League to the African continent they argued that Afrabia is an integral part of Africa and the pan-African concept of unity. They discussed the league’s history, background, and functions and analyzed the league’s past and present contributions to African-Arab cooperation on the continent and on the global scale.

Shifting the focus back to regional ROs Donnet-Rose Odhiambo and Christopher Otieno presented their paper on “Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).” Established in 1996 as a successor to Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD), IGAD changed its mandate from focusing on droughts and other natural disasters to promoting and maintaining peace and security in the region. Tracing this transformation, they looked at IGAD’s political role in conflict management and examined the international community’s role in its establishment. They argue that this change in its mandate enabled its robust reemergence as a legitimate regional actor in Eastern Africa.

William Arrey then presented his chapter on “Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).” Tracing the historical development and the goals and functions of the RO, Arrey stated that ECCAS was created to promote and strengthen harmonious cooperation and self-sustained economic development of the Central African Sub-region. These economic objectives were revitalized and expanded to include the promotion of cooperation, peace, and security in Central Africa.  However, the organization is still struggling to achieve its ambitious objectives which he argued is a result of many structural and operational challenges. The chapter provides certain policy recommendations to overcome these challenges by suggesting a strategic use of its opportunities and strengths. 

Norman Sempijja and Houyame Hakmi then discussed their chapter on “Arab Maghreb Union (UMA).” Detailing the creation of the organization, they stated that the Union was created to address several internal and external challenges that had marginalized the Maghreb countries. UMA’s main objectives were establishing cooperation, good governance, and peace and security. However, to the present day, the organization has failed to achieve true political or economic integration and is riddled with many challenges and intra-regional crises. Building on existing literature, the chapter aims to highlight the role of UMA, and its geostrategic importance and reconsider its institutional blockage and asymmetric functioning.

Henry Berrian led the discussion on his chapter titled “Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).” Documenting the historical developments of COMESA, he analyzed the economic and political developments that have occurred within the organization since its inception in 1994. Using a comprehensive examination Berrian questioned how COMESA had played a role of a transformative institution in Africa to promote regional trade and investment in areas of customs management, trade facilitation, project finance, and technical cooperation. He argued that despite many achievements, COMESA has faced numerous challenges and finds itself in a unique position as one of the key institutions in the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

The next session was led by Jacob Lisakafu and looked at the role and development of “East African Community (EAC).” Analyzing the evolution of EAC from the colonial period with a focus on its political and economic integration agenda Lisakafu questioned its key roles and responsibilities in the region. Using the theory of liberal institutionalism, he argued that EAC is a unique RO in terms of its set-up, historical background, and mode of functioning. He stated that EAC’s fundamental principles of social, cultural, and economic integration and prosperity can be used as a model for other ROs in Africa for establishing foundations for effective integration.

John Paul Banchani & Sebastian Pablo then discussed their paper on “Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD).” Addressing the question of security in the region the paper traced the history, goals, general mandate, and operations of CEN-SAD. The authors explained that in recent times the Sahel region has become a hotspot for incidents of terrorism, Islamic radicalization, illicit drug traffic, and fragile states. Tackling these security challenges in the region has shaped the evolution of CEN-SAD. The paper aims to analyze the successes and challenges of CEN-SAD as a regional organization within the context of regionalism in Africa in an era of de-globalization and tries to answer questions regarding the CEN-SAD’s navigation of the challenging security situation in Sahel and its current organizational form.

The discussion then focused on African ROs and International Organizations (IO) with Oheneba Boateng’s chapter, “Relationship between African regional orgnaizations in international organizations.” Examining the mandates of African ROs and how they cope with changing regional and global political and economic environments, Oheneba reflected on the African ROs global presence. He stated that African ROs have acted as mobilizing forces in international affairs on behalf of their member states, however despite their efforts, their role in international affairs often causes tensions with member states, individual bureaucrats, as well as global actors. The paper seeks to reflect on ways regional ROs can maximize their global presence in a manner that benefits member states and the wider African diaspora. 

The discussion was brought to a close with Lidet Tilahun’s chapter titled, “Voices of the Pioneers: The Vision of African Integration.” Tilahun’s piece contextualizes the interviews she conducted with two pioneers of the African Union, Dr. Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma and Ambassador Konjit Sinegiorgis. The paper looks at OAU’s inception, OAU’s transformation into the AU, and both their roles and efforts in shaping Agenda 2063.

The authors will revise their chapters based on the feedback received. CIRS will collect the chapters and publish the outcome of the project as an edited volume.

Participants and Discussants: 

  • Rogaia Abusharaf, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • William Hermann Arrey, Protestant University of Central Africa, Cameroon
  • Mohamed Ashour, Zayed University, UAE
  • Zahra Babar, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • John-Paul Banchani, Kwame Nkwame University of Science and Technology, Ghana
  • Henry Berrian, development consultant, South Africa
  • Misba Bhatti, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Oheneba Boateng, Bucknell University, USA
  • Houyame Hakmi, Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), Morocco
  • Lynda Cinenye Iroulo, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Jacob Lisakafu, Open University in Tanzania
  • Suzi Mirgani, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Yehia Mohamed, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Densua Mumford, Leiden University
  • Donnet-Rose Adhiambo Odhiambo, Technical University of Kenya
  • Christopher Otieno Omolo, Eberhard Karls University Tubingen, Germany
  • Sebastian Angzoorokuu Paalo, Kwame Nkwame University of Science and Technology, Ghana
  • Dalva Raposo, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Ahmed Ali Salem, Rhodes University in South Africa
  • Norman Sempijja, Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), Morocco
  • Lidet Tilahun
  • Elizabeth Wanucha, CIRS – Georgetown University Qatar

Article by Misba Bhatti, Research Analyst at CIRS