Economic integration

The African Union works for political and economic integration

This year’s Africa Day message from the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, affirms the organization’s commitment to political and economic integration among member states. He cites the free movement of people, goods and services among his flagship projects for 2016.

This year’s Africa Day message from the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, affirms the organization’s commitment to political and economic integration among member states. He cites the free movement of people, goods and services among his flagship projects for 2016.

However, a recent analysis of public attitudes towards regional integration suggests that ‘more needs to be done to convince [African citizens] of the benefits of integration ”.

A majority (56%) of those questioned are in favor of free cross-border movement. But only a quarter (26%) say it is “very easy” or “easy” to do in their area. The results are based on nationally representative surveys in 36 countries conducted by Afrobarometer, a non-partisan African research network.

The African Development Bank’s Visa Opening Report calls for the free movement of labor, capital, goods and services to promote economic development. However, he finds that African citizens need visas to travel to more than half (55%) of countries on the continent.

Of the 20 countries most “open to visas”, 75% are in East or West Africa. None are in Central Africa. Seychelles is leading the way, with visa-free access for all nationalities. Western Sahara is the least open, requiring all visitors from African countries to acquire a visa before departure.

Public attitudes towards regional integration

Public opinion data also shows large regional differences in attitudes towards integration. Support for freedom of movement is highest among West Africans (66%) and East Africans (64%).

The high number of visa-on-arrival policies in East Africa explains the region’s high scores in terms of visa opening. For West Africa, this is the protocol for the free movement of people between members of the Economic Community of West African States. These regional policies may have contributed to citizens’ support for economic integration.

However, large disparities within the two regions indicate that national politics and context continue to play an important role in shaping public preferences.

In East Africa, less than half (46%) of Tanzanians support the free movement of labor, compared to 76% of Kenyans. This could boil down to a variation in the perceived benefits of regional integration. Kenya, the economic hub of the region, has benefited greatly from intra-regional trade in the four regional economic communities of which it is a member.

However, support is lower in Nigeria (62%) and Senegal (65%), which play similar roles in Anglophone and Francophone West Africa.

Support for free movement and perceived ease of crossing international borders, by region, for 36 countries (2014/2015).

However, only minorities of citizens of West and East Africa believe that it is easy to cross borders for work or trade. The gap between public support for free movement and perceptions of ease of movement is smallest in North Africa (14 percentage points). It is followed by Southern Africa (19 points).

The divergence between the African Development Bank’s findings on ease of movement and perception data is likely due to the fact that the former focus on accessibility in general. The questions in the Afrobarometer survey specify crossing borders for work or commerce.

Low levels of support for free movement in some countries suggest that some view foreign migrants as unwanted competitors.

The African Development Bank argues that integration promotes economic development. However, its own study finds that eight of the continent’s nine upper-middle-income countries have low levels of visa openness. Maurice is the exception, ranking ninth on this measure.

Half (50%) of Mauritian citizens surveyed support the free movement of people. This is the highest level among the seven upper middle-income countries in which Afrobarometer surveyed.

One possible explanation for this trend is the high levels of structural unemployment and income inequality in many of these countries, particularly in southern Africa. Poverty remains a major challenge for ordinary Batswana, Namibians and South Africans, despite the macroeconomic success of these countries.

Afrobarometer data also indicates significant challenges to political integration. A majority of citizens in the five regions are in favor of respecting national sovereignty (58% on average). However, when it comes to the regional responsibility of ensuring free elections and preventing human rights violations in other countries, support drops to 34%. Preferences vary considerably from country to country, with support for regional responsibility being highest in Burkina Faso.


Regional responsibility vs national sovereignty, by region, for 36 countries (2014/2015).

Few people know the African Union

The African Union and regional institutions play a leading role in promoting economic and political integration. However, about three in ten Africans say they do not know enough about the institutions to assess their usefulness for their country.

On average, six in ten citizens say that the African Union (58%) or their regional communities (61%) help their country at least “a little”. This figure varies from an average of 70% in Central Africa to 43% in North Africa.


Perceived usefulness of the African Union and regional organizations, by region, for 36 countries (2014/2015).

Political and economic integration are key aspirations of the African Union’s Agenda 2063. However, public opinion data suggests that more effort is needed to promote these goals to ordinary citizens. This is particularly true for the countries of North and Central Africa.

Overall, national sovereignty remains important to most Africans. Resistance to free movement across borders suggests that a significant number of people view foreign migrants as competition with local labor and businesses. This is true even in the richest countries of the continent.

Support for integration is highest in West and East Africa. These regions are home to countries that have made significant progress in facilitating the opening of visas and free movement. These include initiatives such as regional passports.

This suggests that national support for cooperation and integration agreements can affect public opinion. However, a significant proportion of African citizens do not know enough about the institutions promoting integration. This affects their ability to assess their usefulness to their own country.

Why East and West Africans Support Integration, and Others Don’t is republished with permission from The Conversation

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