Strategic options of economic integration and global trade for Africa in the 21st century
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Despite huge strides in economic development made in many parts of the world over the last few decades, many people in Africa still remain in dire poverty. According to the 2007/2008 United Nations Human Development Report, the twenty countries with the lowest human development are all located in Sub-Saharan Africa. Trade has often been identified as a vital engine of economic growth and development to facilitate an African renaissance in the 21st Century. However, economic integration schemes in Africa continue to suffer from many limitations and Africa’s participation in the global economy remains miniscule. Regional integration arrangements in Africa, for example, continue to be characterized by overlapping membership and weak institutions. At the turn of the new century Africa’s share of world trade plummeted to levels below those in the 1960s when it had accounted for 2 percent of world trade. The erosion of Africa’s world trade share represents a staggering income loss of billions of dollars annually. The acceleration of globalization seems to have placed Africa at the threshold of further marginalization. With the formation of the African Union in 2002 and associated institutions such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), it appeared that there was a renewed impetus for development on the continent. A new and better calibre of African leaders emerged in some countries in the 21st century, although with some notable exceptions. This paper will explore what needs to be achieved for economic integration to be more effective in Africa and for Africa to participate more effectively in global trade. The relationship between different economic integration initiatives in Africa to global trade liberalization in the framework of the WTO will be explored. It will be argued that in order for African states to become more fully integrated in the global economy they will need to adopt a more pro-active rather than reactive approach. Such an approach will center on building more effective institutions at the national and regional levels so as to give Africa a greater voice in the 21st century. Africa’s development challenges are essentially about a crisis of institutions at the political, economic and social levels. Weak regional institutions reflect internal weaknesses of member states. The paper will explore competing conceptual constructs of regional integration in Africa with a view to arriving at a set of strategic options for enhanced effectiveness.For example, open regionalism based on neo-classical assumptions will be contrasted with the concept of “regionalism from below” which emphasizes the importance of civil society and informal organizations in regionalism. Concerns of African states arising from the existing multilateral framework and current trade round of the WTO will also be examined as will be strategic options for integrating Africa more fully into the global economy.