Understanding Human Mobility in Africa / The Regional Economic Communities of African Union: EAC

Regional Economic Communities (RECs)

The Regional Economic Communities (RECs) are regional groupings of African states. The RECs have developed individually and have differing roles and structures. Generally, the purpose of the RECs is to facilitate regional economic integration between members of the individual regions and through the wider African Economic Community (AEC), which was established under the Abuja Treaty (1991). The 1980 Lagos Plan of Action for the Development of Africa and the Abuja Treaty proposed the creation of RECs as the basis for wider African integration, with a view to regional and eventual continental integration. The RECS are increasingly involved in coordinating AU Member States’ interests in wider areas such as peace and security, development and governance.

The RECs are closely integrated with the AU’s work and serve as its building blocks. The relationship between the AU and the RECs is mandated by the Abuja Treaty and the AU Constitutive Act, and guided by the: 2008 Protocol on Relations between the RECs and the AU; and the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cooperation in the Area of Peace and Security between the AU, RECs and the Coordinating Mechanisms of the Regional Standby Brigades of Eastern and Northern Africa.

The AU recognises eight RECs, the:
• Arab Maghreb Union (UMA)
• Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)
• Community of Sahel–Saharan States (CEN–SAD)
• East African Community (EAC)
• Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS)
• Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
• Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)2
• Southern African Development Community (SADC).

In addition, the Eastern Africa Standby Force Coordination Mechanism (EASFCOM) and North
African Regional Capability (NARC) both have liaison offices at the AU.

The Protocol on Relations between the RECs and the AU provides a coordination framework between the AEC and the RECs. This framework has the following two elements.

1. UMA is not a signatory to the Protocol on Relations between the RECs and the AU.
2. In October 2013, on the sidelines of an AU Extraordinary Summit, IGAD and EAC Foreign Ministers decided to explore the possibility of merging these two RECs.

Source: https://au.int/en/organs/recs

Download here the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community (ENG,FRA,POR)



by Muluh Cletus, SIHMA Researcher

As a first step towards continental integration, the Regional Economic Communities (REC) established under the Abuja Treaty of 1991 and the Lagos Plan of Action for the Development of Africa, created regional blocks to facilitate the regional economic integration of member states within the continent. Regional organisations are therefore, seen as an effective and efficient vehicle through which continental integration and free movement of people can be achieved. As an umbrella organisation, the African Union (AU) has a close working relationship with the REC as stipulated by the Abuja Treaty and the AU Constitutive Act and guided by the 2008 Protocol on relations between the REC and the AU and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on cooperation in the areas of peace and security between AU, REC and coordination mechanisms of the Regionals Standby Brigades of Eastern and Northern Africa. There are 8 RECs recognised by AU; Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Community of Sahel - Saharan States (CEN-SAD), East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)2, Southern African Development Community (SADC). 


East African Community (EAC)

The Creation of the East African Community (EAC) was born out of long historical cooperation and regional integration between its founding members (Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda). Following the dissolution of the first East African Community in 1977 and the subsequent establishment of the Permanent Tripartite Commission for East African Cooperation, the three Heads of State meeting in Arusha saw the need for greater cooperation amongst member states and instructed the permanent secretary of the Tripartite Commission to initiate a process of converting the commission into a full treaty which eventually gave birth to the current East African Community. The EAC treaty was concluded in 1999 and was ratified in 2000 by its founding members (Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) (East African Community, 2022). Since then, its membership has grown to 7 in 2022, with the four additional member states being Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Ibid). The region has a population of about 300 million people, of which over 22% are urban population. The EAC seeks to enhance cooperation amongst its member states for the mutual benefits of all its partners in the areas of political, economic, social and cultural fields, research and technology, defence security and legal and judicial affairs (East African Court of Justice, 2020).

The regional organisation seeks to achieve integration through four major pillars – customs union, common market, monetary union, and political federation.

The custom union as defined by Article 75 of the EAC Treaty, has been in force since 2005. The custom union aims to establish a free trade zone between EAC members where they will be zero duty imposed on goods and services amongst state partners and the establishment of a common tariff on imports from outside the EAC partner states. Key sectors under the custom union include agriculture and food security, customs, health, immigration and labour, industrialisation and SME development, infrastructure, tourism and wildlife management, and trade (East African Community, 2022). 

The common market that has been in existence since 2010 follow in line with the custom union that seeks to provide freedom of movement. The common market, seeks to provide freedom of movement to all the factors related to production - which include: free movement of goods, persons, labour/worker, services, capital and the right of residence and establishment. Its operation will be embedded in operational principles of sharing of; information, transparency, non-discrimination and equal treatment of nationals of member states. In addition to the key sectors mention above, other sectors of concern under the common market pillar include culture, education, science, and technology, energy, environment and natural resources, gender community development and civil society, investment promotion and private sector development, and peace and security. Concerning the aspect of the free movement of oersons, labour/worker, it is important to note that the public sector is denied the benefit of movement as article 10(10) of the Common Market Protocol indicates that workers may only take up employment in the private sector and not in the public sector (Kago & Masinde, 2017). This restriction entails that the skills these workers come with can only be provided to the private sector. In addition to the above restriction, member states have the right to limit the free movement of people on grounds of public policy, public security or public health (Ibid).

Two other prospective pillars of integration within the region are the monetary union and the political federation. Concerning the monetary union, the East African Monetary Union (EAMU) - established by the EAC Treaty of 2013 is charged with the responsibility of piloting the process of achieving a monetary union within ten years. Key sectors involve in this pillar of integration are Trade, financial and investment, promotion, and private sector development. Provided under Article 5(2) of the EAC Treaty, the ultimate goal of the regional organisation is to attain a process of a political federation that will be grounded in three principles: common foreign and security policies, good governance, and effective implementation of the prior stages of regional integration (custom union, common market, monetary union). As a step toward achieving political federation, the EAC Heads of state adopted a political confederation as a transitional model for the political federation on 27 May 2017.

Some of the challenges of implementing the above-mentioned policies include, inter alia; the nuances between domestic law and regional law, the lack of data collection and management system of migrants at both national and intra – and inter-institutional levels (IOM, 2017) which negatively impacts migrants, for example, accessing services, and implementation challenges and lack of an enforcement mechanism when a country default (Hall et al, 2018).


Photo Serengeti (Tanzania) by Hu Chen on Unsplash

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