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New scenarios enrich the traditional models of regional economic integration in Africa

The Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the newly-formed Alliance of Sahel States (ALS) recently met on November 30 and 1th December 2023 in Bamako, Burkina Faso, and proposed the establishment of a Confederation between Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger with the creation of a roadmap for the establishment of a monetary union with the adoption of a new currency to replace the CFA franc. The ALS (in French: Alliance des États du Sahel, AES) is a mutual defense pact created by the three States on 16 September 2023 following their suspension from ECOWAS, as a reaction to the threats from this Regional Economic Community to intervene militarily to restore the civilian rule after the coup in Niger of 26 July 2023.

The ALS  was born with the objective to form a common front against possible threats of armed aggression to the three States, based on the principle that any attack to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more of them will be considered an aggression against all the others.

Judged by some observers as an attempt bound to fail, because based on a faulty foundation (a reaction to reduce the influence of France in West Africa), this organization is quickly moving towards the establishment of stricter relations between its members that go well beyond the defense and military perspective. During the last week meeting, the countries’ Ministers of Foreign Affairs emphasized the need to create closer economic and policy ties between their States, advising the creation of a stabilization fund, an investment bank and of a committee charged to study the possibility to establish an economic and monetary union as part of a long-term goal of uniting the 3 West African neighbors within a Confederation. These recommendations will be submitted to the Heads of State of the 3 countries, who are due to meet in Bamako at an unspecified date.

If these plans will go ahead, the construction of the African market will be enriched with a new structure that no one had foreseen so far - substantially different from the traditional Regional Economic Communities - which aims at achieving a monetary union bypassing the creation of a customs union or a common market. At moment is still too early to judge how realistic and concrete are these plans, but one thing is sure: the regional integration processes in Africa are assuming characteristics that are increasingly distant from traditional pathways of linear integration that have been followed by other regional groupings, such as the European Union for instance. Indeed, some African countries are challenging the classic and neoclassic economic integration theories, that see such processes as a static and pre-determined ‘linear’ sequencing, where States begin by establishing loose cooperation ties and move progressively, and in a pre-determined sequence, towards increasingly sophisticated forms of integration, evolving from Free Trade Areas (FTAs) to customs unions, to common markets and finally, to monetary and politic unions. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is not an exception, as this agreement combines features that are typical of FTAs with a number of elements (such as the free movement of people, services, investment and capital) that characterize deeper forms of integration, such as Common Markets. At the point that some scholars define it as an ‘FTA-plus’ Agreement. WAEMU and CEMAC are other cases of groups of States that are have formed Customs Unions by anticipating elements that are characteristic of more advanced forms of integration, such as the adoption of a common currency, without passing through the creation of a Common Market first. On the other hand, the Tripartite (EAC-COMESA-SADC), recently adopted a series of Agreements and Protocols to harmonize the provision of cross-border road transport services in the three RECs that are part of this Community, together with an Agreement on Movement of Businesspersons, and a Protocol on competition policy. This reflects its intention to go beyond the simple establishment of enlarged FTA between these three RECs, by including in its agenda policy areas - such as mobility of persons, transport services and coordination of competition policies - that are typical of more advanced forms of economic integration and by putting aside, at least for the moment, plans for establishing a Customs Union.

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