AEI report coverAfrican growth is still shallow rooted and the benefits are narrowly distributed. An essential part of deepening the roots and broadening the impact of growth is the continental project of African economic integration. This is widely accepted.

While we know that the overall impact of African Economic Integration (AEI) will benefit all African countries, powerful vested interests and petty problems that require political capital or a political champion stand in the way of progress. Our approach focuses on the political economy of economic integration in Africa, identifying the forces favouring and opposing reform, and developing strategies to help drive reform forward.

In the absence of consistent political commitment to integration and in light of regional economic organisations making limited progress over many decades, we agree on the need to mobilise a broader array of supporters of AEI, country by country, especially in the regional hegemons, as an important part of the strategy. We need to mobilize citizens of Africa and more specifically progressive elements in the business community, in NGOs, in parliaments, among young leaders and journalists. Mobilization will be through pan-African horizontal networks and vertical networks within countries. We seek to support both processes and to catalyse progress in this and other ways.

The experts’ workshop focused on analysing the forces for and against integration continentally and nationally, and on how to strengthen the hand of the progressive forces. 

Thandika Mkandawire

The youth workshop drew on what was learnt in the experts’ workshop and through research and discussion, the policymakers workshop sought to strengthen the hand of pro-integration policymakers, and the multi-stakeholder workshop focused on ways of mobilising broader national, regional and continental networks in support of integration. The in-country workshops sought to consolidate national pro-integration networks.

In November 2014 the experts’ workshop brought together over 30 strategic thinkers, several with practitioner experience, to reflect on the political economy of African economic integration. The workshop took place over two days in Cape Town, South Africa, and provided a unique opportunity, in a “neutral” space, for experts and practitioners concerned about these issues to share their findings and take a moment to critically reflect on the state of play with regards to economic integration on the continent, and how to move things forward and to frankly ask: What is holding up progress? 

Why is this trend not happening when it is clear that increased trade and greater integration of African markets could positively affect the development and growth of the continent? What are the forces, obstacles and actors that support or oppose integration? With a renewed focus on Africa as the continent of growth and opportunity, what is stopping the continent from developing? What are the most pressing challenges? What should a research agenda for economic integration on the African continent include? What might be the most promising approaches and methods? How can scholarly research on regional integration have an impact on the world of politics? 

Key objectives

  • To bring leading thinkers/experts on African integration issues to UCT to engage in a frank conversation that unpacks the political economy of African integration
  • To analyse the forces for and against integration continentally and nationally with a clear focus on the development angle
  • To seek ways and clear strategies to strengthen the pro-integration forces and develop a common narrative grounded in current data on for instance inter-regional trade, strengths and weaknesses of RECs, product flows, other key issues
  • To inspire new thinking on the topic by having a conversation informed by critical data, current examples and case studies; 
  • To inform programme activities that make up the Building Bridges programme, in particular to strategize around how to engage with policymakers and multiple stakeholders to deepen the conversation around African integration issues as “it is too important to be left to the politicians”


  • A greater understanding of the forces favouring or opposing developmental integration in Africa
  • Clear strategies to help drive the reform agenda including mobilization of progressive elements in civil society, business, parliament, media and amongst youth leaders
  • Support and mobilization through horizontal pan African networks and vertical in-country networks to raise awareness around the need for integration