Regional Economic Communities - Background


From its establishment in 1963, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) identified the need for the economic integration of the continent as a prerequisite for economic development.

The 1980 Lagos Plan of Action for the Development of Africa, followed by the 1991 treaty to establish the African Economic Community (also referred to as the Abuja Treaty), proposed the creation of regional economic communities (RECs) as the basis for African integration, with a timetable for regional and then continental integration to follow. The Treaty provides for the African Economic Community to be set up through a gradual process, in 6 stages over 34 years, i.e. by 2028.

Article 88 of the Abuja Treaty states that the foundation of the African Economic Community is the progressive integration of the activities of the RECs, with the establishment of full continental economic integration as the final objective towards which the activities of existing and future RECs must be geared. A Protocol on Relations between the AEC and the RECs entered into force on 25 February 1998.

In 2000, the OAU/AEC Summit in Lomé adopted the Constitutive Act of the African Union, which formally replaced the OAU in 2002. The final OAU Summit in Lusaka from 9 to 11 July 2001 reaffirmed the status of the RECs within the African Union and the need for their close involvement in the formulation and implementation of all programmes of the Union.

At the same time, it was recognised that the existing structure of the RECs was far from ideal, with many overlaps in membership. At the Maputo Summit in 2003 the AU Commission was requested to accelerate the preparation of a new draft Protocol on Relations between the African Union and the RECs. Rationalisation of the RECs formed the theme of the July 2006 Banjul summit of the AU. At the July 2007 Accra summit the AU Assembly adopted a Protocol on Relations between the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities. This protocol is intended to facilitate the harmonisation of policies and ensure compliance with the Abuja Treaty and Lagos Plan of Action time frames.

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