Making policies work

The political economy of regional integration in Africa


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There are numerous regional organisations and policies in place to support regional integration in Africa. In some sectors and regions real progress has been made in the past years. By and large, however, the reality on the ground does not match political ambitions. Dissatisfaction with the implementation of regional policies and the lack of results is growing.

So what blocks or drives regional integration in Africa? And what role do regional organisations play in this? ECDPM aimed to answer these questions. In February 2016 we published the findings of our one-and-a-half-year PERIA project (political economy of regional integration in Africa), undertaken with Palladium and funded by the Embassy of Sweden in Nairobi.

Our multi-disciplinary team looked at six of Africa’s largest regional organisations: the African Union (AU), COMESA, EAC, ECOWAS, IGAD and SADC. The case studies analyse the commitments of these organisations in different sectors, ranging from peace and security, to transport and infrastructure, food security, climate change, gender, trade, energy, conservation and industrialisation. More than 200 people were interviewed.

During the coming months we will organise several seminars to discuss the findings of the studies. With these seminars we hope to stimulate an open discussion on the dynamics of regional integration in Africa, and the implications for key stakeholders.

If you’re interested to learn more, please have a look at our final studies below. For more information you can also get in touch with the project leader Jan Vanheukelom via

How can we do regional integration in Africa differently? ECDPM’s Bruce Byiers explains:


A ‘How to’ note


Doing regional development differently

The final studies


The brochure and synthesis


The African Union report

Focus areas: peace and security, infrastructure, food security, climate change, gender


The SADC report

Focus areas: gender, industrialisation, energy, conservation


The ECOWAS report

Focus areas: peace and security, food security, gender


The COMESA report

Focus areas: trade, energy, gender


The EAC report

Focus areas: trade, transport and infrastructure, gender


The IGAD report

Focus areas: peace and security, transport and infrastructure, trade

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More on the PERIA project

Regional cooperation and integration are deemed vital to tackle development challenges that cannot be solved at the national level. In Africa, many such challenges affect poor people’s lives in areas ranging from human security and mobility to rural livelihoods, trade, infrastructure, food security, environment and climate change.

Despite wide agreement, and the various regional organisations and policies in place, the slow pace of implementation frustrates many. The Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, herself has said: “I don’t think Africa is short of policies. We have to implement, that is where the problem is”.

While traditional explanations for this implementation gap generally focus on capacity constraints and the ‘lack of political will’, there is a need to better understand the underlying dynamics that help or hinder formal regional integration processes in Africa. This PERIA study is an attempt to do so in a comprehensive and systematic way.

By examining the political economy of six regional organisations – the African Union (AU) and five of the eight Regional Economic Communities (RECs): COMESA, EAC, ECOWAS, IGAD and SADC – this study analyses some of the key actors and factors that help shape the agendas of regional organisations in Africa, as well as the context-specific drivers and obstacles to the implementation of these agendas.

The focus is on foundational and institutional factors, key actors, including those external to the regions, and the incentives and interests at play. The approach aims to uncover why the dynamics around each of the regional organisations unfold as they do, rather than judging how they ought to be according to ‘best practice’ or model trajectories.

By systematically examining the different actors and factors that affect the way these six regional organisations work, the studies aim to increase understanding of what shapes the incentive environment and what contributes to the technical and political feasibility of reforms in a particular regional context.

Download the brochure:

Download (PDF, 938KB)

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PERIA events

In the upcoming months, we will be organising a series of lunch seminars in Brussels. With these seminars we hope to stimulate an open discussion on the dynamics of regional integration in Africa, and the implications for key stakeholders. For more information, please have a look at the event pages.

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Related projects

PEDRO project: The political economy dynamics of regional organisations in Africa (2016-2018)

Building on the PERIA project, the new ECDPM PEDRO project will look into the political economy dynamics of 17 regional organisations in Africa. For more information on the PEDRO project, please visit our project dossier.

PERISA project: The political economy of regional integration in Southern Africa (2012-2013)

In 2012 and 2013, ECDPM and SAIIA partnered to take stock of key political and economic actors and factors that drive regional cooperation and effective integration in a rapidly changing global environment. Fore more information on the PERISA project, please visit our project page.

More resources and information


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