African unity has long been a cherished - but elusive - goal. There is now a
renewed impetus to establish closer economic and political ties among the
continent’s numerous countries, based on a heightened appreciation of the need
for regional integration and a clearer understanding of the reasons for past
failures. Series of articles examines some of the central challenges facing the
drive for integration, including enhanced trade among African countries, more
roads and other infrastructure, reform of regional institutions, greater
accountability and popular involvement, and closer coordination of efforts by
the public and private sectors. Many of the interviews and other materials were
originally gathered by Africa Recovery at the African Development Forum,
organized by the UN Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on
3-8 March 2002 and devoted to the theme, “Defining Priorities for Regional
On the edge of Porto Novo, Benin, runs an unpaved, unnamed road. It is little travelled during the daytime, but at night large transport lorries weave around the potholes to bring in petrol and other commodities from just across the border in Nigeria. No customs officers check the goods, and they are not counted in Benin’s official trade statistics. Yet their sale satisfies consumer needs and provides livelihoods to thousands of small-scale traders in market-places across the country.
Like Benin, each of Africa’s 53 countries has its own flag, constitution, capital city and customs service, and each is separated by lines on the map. For many ordinary Africans, however, the things that divide them are less important than what unites them: an understanding that they are all Africans and that they have common interests in promoting the closest possible political, economic and human ties across national boundaries.
The idea of better integrating African countries and regions has long been promoted by political leaders in speeches, official conferences and formal treaties, although with only limited results on the ground. In recent years, the concept has acquired greater urgency, dramatized by the formal launching of the African Union this July (see “The African Union is launched”). At a time of heightened international competition, argues Mr. K.Y. Amoako, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), African regional integration must accelerate so that the continent can respond “ever more effectively to a globalizing world.”