African Union—Ethiopia and Regional Integration in Africa
Photo Credit To Selamta Magazine

African Union—Ethiopia and Regional Integration in Africa

The African Union secretariat, established in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital

TEXT: H.E. Mr. Markos Tekle Rike, Ph.D, Ambassador of the Federal democratic republic of Ethiopia to Japan


Established on May 26, 2001 in Addis Ababa with the aim of replacing the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which was established on May 25, 1963 and also in Addis Ababa, the African Union (AU) is a continental union consisting of 54 countries in Africa. The concept of African Unity is deeply embedded in the notion of African resistance against colonialism and their struggle for independence inside the continent and the Pan-African movements in the African Diaspora and the Americas. The main objectives of the Organization of African Unity, among others, were ensuring African integration, safeguarding African interests in supporting liberation of African territories, and maintaining sovereignty and territorial integrity of African states. The Organization of African Unity contributed in demonstrating the unified voices of Africa in various international forums including that of the United Nations.

H.E. Mr. Markos Tekle Rike, Ph.D, Ambassador of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to Japan.
H.E. Mr. Markos Tekle Rike, Ph.D, Ambassador of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to Japan.

The African Union has broader objectives than the Organization of African Unity, which include accelerating social, political, and economic integration; defending common, African positions on the global forum; promoting peace, security and stability on the continent; and promoting sustainable development. The African Union has various committees, councils, and organizations that carry out designated activities in the continent. The most important decisions made by the African Union are made during the Assembly of the African Union, a semi-annual meeting of the Heads of State and Government of its member states. The African Union’s secretariat, the African Union Commission, is based in Addis Ababa and acts as the executive and administrative branch of the African Union.

Ethiopia is an ancient state with a long history filled with rich traditions, which managed to maintain its independence amid the colonial partition of Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. The historic victory of Adwa against the invading colonial forces in 1896 immensely contributed to the spread of the Black Consciousness Movement and the Pan-African Movement across the continent and in the Diaspora. Due to its historic victory of Blacks over White colonial powers and symbolic role for African Liberation Movements, Ethiopia managed to play a mediating role between different blocs to enable the establishment of the Organization of African Unity. Also, as a founding member of the United Nations, Ethiopia had sponsored various agendas at the United Nation’s forums in favor of liberation and independence of African Territories.

It was the aforementioned fact that entitled the country to a special place among African countries; and hence, it was chosen to host the Organization of African Unity, later the African Union, and eventually became the center for African Diplomatic Activity. Ethiopia hosts the African Union Heads of States and Government Summits every January. Addis Ababa is always prepared to host such large meetings and currently its capacity to host meetings is strengthening and its hospitality industry is expanding in terms of quantity and improving in terms of quality. The African Union and Africa, in general, are the top priority in Ethiopian foreign relations. Ethiopia has maintained its “Africa First” foreign policy and relations for over half a century despite changes in regimes and ideological orientations in domestic politics.

The African Union’s headquarters complex in Addis Ababa.
The African Union’s headquarters complex in Addis Ababa.

In the case of uniting and integrating the continent, one of the key debates in regards to the achievement of greater continental integration is whether priority should be given to the integration of the continent as a unit in itself or to the integration of sub-regions. The 1991 treaty establishing the African Economic Community 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. Currently, there are many RECs in Africa which are in different levels of integration: The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the East African Community (EAC), the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) and the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) are the major regional integration schemes that exist in the continent.

Regional economic integration schemes play a significant role in accelerating economic development and improving living standards by providing access to wider markets and creating a more competitive economic environment for producers and consumers.

Ethiopia, as a founding member of COMESA and IGAD, is actively working for possible political and economic cooperation with all of its neighboring countries. The establishment of COMESA fulfilled the requirement set by the Preferential Trade Area for Western and Southern Africa (PTA) to become a common market. COMESA has 19 member states with a population of over 450 million and it forms a major market place for both internal and external trading. Currently, the COMESA is one of the most progressive regional economic integration schemes in Southern and Eastern Africa. IGAD was formed in 1986 with the mandate to deal with drought and desertification in the Horn of Africa. Later, IGAD would become a forum for regional security and political dialogue. With the 1996 agreement in place, IGAD’s primary objective switched to promoting joint development strategies and gradually harmonizing macro-economic policies in regard to trade, customs, transport, communication, agriculture, and natural resources; promoting the free movement of goods, services, and people; and the establishment of residence. Given its achievement in political cooperation and security matters in the region, IGAD could be one of the more successful regional integration schemes if the transition to economic integration is fully materialized. Currently, IGAD has seven members with a total population of around 240 million and a GDP of over USD 230 billion.

There are various factors that affect the speedy process of regional as well as continental integration. A major factor is the general lack of proper infrastructure, transportation, and communication necessary to integrate these economies. The enormous landmass of Africa requires road and railway infrastructure, which in turn require a huge investment that is unaffordable to most countries in Africa. The colonial legacy largely contributed to these structural issues, as colonies were more directly connected with the metropolitan areas than their neighboring countries in many respects. Overlapping memberships and political differences have impeded progress of many regional integration schemes in Africa, particularly those in East Africa.

With all pending issues in fully integrating its economy with the regional bloc, there is an appreciable level of beneficial interactions between Ethiopia and other COMESA member states. As the host state of the African Union, Ethiopia plays a leading role for the cooperation and integration of African countries. Ethiopia is connected with all its neighbors, including the newborn nation of South Sudan, by road transportation and fiber optics; moreover, the construction of new railways that connect Ethiopia with the main port cities of Djibouti and Tadjoura are to be completed early next year. There is also a national program to construct railways towards other neighboring countries in addition to the highways that have already connected the sub-region.

Ethiopian government’s current initiative of exporting energy to the neighboring countries has already begun in Djibouti and Sudan; furthermore, the transmission line and substations connecting with Kenya are under construction. One of the frameworks of agreement with Sudan and Egypt has included the importance of exporting electricity to such countries from the new power project under construction on the Nile River, which will generate 6,000 megawatts of power. Such a move seeks to lay the base for strong economic integration in Eastern Africa. Ethiopian Airlines, which has the biggest network inside of Africa, is also serving as a catalyst for wider economic integration by connecting different corners of the continent. In addition to Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, Ethiopian Airlines has established regional hubs in Western and Southern Africa.

Ethiopia, in its utmost efforts to generate clean energy and embrace light manufacturing, has announced a strategy to reach the middle income level for Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy and set a target for zero CO2 emission in 2025.


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