PEGNet Conference 2016

Regional integration for Africa’s economic transformation – Challenges and opportunities

15 - 16 Sep 2016
Institute of Policy Analysis and Research

Africa, in particular Sub-Saharan Africa, has moved into the focus of the global development agenda not least due to its remarkable growth in the first decade of the 21st century. Part of this growth has been caused by a commodity boom lasting until 2008. However, part of the interest also stems from domestic developments in the region, including some policy reforms and regional integration efforts. The most recent example of the latter is the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) that has brought together the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, East African Community and Southern Africa Development Community (COMESA-EAC–SADC).

Regional integration is seen as an appropriate strategy to overcome the difficulties faced by a continent with a mix of small and large, sparsely and densely populated, fragmented, as well as quickly growing economies. Regional integration is regarded as an ideal approach to reap efficiency gains and exploit economies of scale. Yet, design is crucial to avoiding agreements that end on paper. So far, African regional economic communities have pursued the ’linear model’ of integration with a step-wise integration of goods, labor and capital markets, and eventually monetary and fiscal integration, which have tended to focus on border measures such as the import tariff. However, this model has not materialized into success for many landlocked countries such as Rwanda that face severe supply-side constraints. A deeper integration agenda that includes financing and building regional infrastructure, trade facilitation – including customs as well as logistics, shipping, insurance, etc. − competition policy and other behind-the-border issues as well as political leadership and commitment to cooperation may address the national-level supply-side constraints far more effectively than an agenda which focuses almost exclusively on border measures.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development acknowledges the importance of regional integration and interconnectivity in enhancing sustainable development of developing countries. The regional dimension is of particular importance for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (8 and 9) that focus on sustained, inclusive and sustainable goals, full and productive employment,and decent work for all as well as on resilient infrastructure, inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation. SDG 9 explicitly calls for an enhancement of behind-the-border measures such as the development of regional and transborder infrastructure that will be accessible by all. If these renewed regional integration efforts are to be successful, a greater emphasis has to be placed on providing solutions to challenges that have hindered the success of existing regional integration initiatives. One of the biggest challenges in Africa has been the so called 'spaghetti bowl' of overlapping integration areas and memberships that result in conflicting political and institutional commitments to different regional economic communities. Currently, 39 countries are members of more than one regional economic community. The negotiation of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union (EU) has laid bare this state of affairs. Regional integration in Africa has to become more effective in order to counter the skepticism among trade experts as to whether regional integration may not be a detour or even a stumbling block for a full fledged participation of African countries in the global economy.

We consider regional integration to be a highly relevant issue for applied research as well as practice. There is a large demand among policymakers for strategies and methods that analyze the integration needs of different countries, particularly since these countries are confronted with various problems which do not allow for one-size fits-all strategies. In particular, but not exclusively, we invite contributions (papers and presentations of projects) that provide solutions to the following challenges and questions:


  • How will new regional integration attempts such as the TFTA address some of the challenges such as overlapping integration areas that have hindered past integration efforts?

  • What has been the impact of the EPAs with the EU on regional integration in Africa?

  • Can regional economic integration succeed in dealing with the differences that arise from heterogeneities in logistics, infrastructure, communication, fiscal regimes, geography and demographics?

  • How can regional integration enhance efforts aimed at combating regional crises such as the current energy crisis faced by many SADC countries or even the recent wave of political instability in the ECOWAS region?

  • How can regional integration schemes raise the competitiveness of land-locked countries and facilitate their participation in regional and international trade?

  • How can regional integration schemes raise the attractiveness of small countries for foreign direct investment (FDI)?

  • What are promising value chains that could be explored by regional integration?

  • How can national and regional policies be synchronised and harmonised ?

  • How can reliable data be collected for a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation system of regional integration schemes ?

  • What would it take for Africa to seize the opportunities that regional integration offers for economic transformation transformation and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

  • Are there lessons that can be emulated from the European model of regional integration or from experiences in other regions for Africa?

Invited Speakers

Conference Format

The conference provided a platform for high-level dialogue and exchange of ideas between development researchers, practitioners and policy-makers. The two conference days featured parallel sessions based on invited and contributed papers as well as project presentations. The parallel sessions were complemented by a debate, a round-table discussion and keynote speeches by renowned speakers from academia, economic policy and development practice.

In addition, the PEGNet Best Practice Award was for awarded for the eighth time to to the project "Community Based Health Insurance in Ethiopia" that was submitted by Researchers from the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam in The Hague. While plenary sessions focused on the conference theme, parallel sessions and Best Practice Award projects were open to all topics in development economics and included sessions on amongst others; Finance, Social Protection, Labour Markets and Agriculture.