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Transfrontier Regionalism. The Revival of Regional Integration in Africa

A.I. Asiwaju
Daniel C. Bach


Yann Lebeau

Texte intégral

The Frontiers of Regionalization in Africa

1It is a great honour for me to introduce the new format of the IFRA occasional publication series with A. I. Asiwaju and D. Bach, two of the most authoritative scholars on the subject of boundaries and regional integration in Africa. Both authors addressed the monthly seminar series of the French Institute for Research in Africa at the University of Ibadan in 1998. I took the liberty of putting their papers together for a joint publication (although they were not written with that perspective). Herein lies the spirit of an editorial project that aims at stimulating research, not creating controversy among experts.

2The views and perspectives adopted by A.I. Asiwaju and D. Bach appear sufficiently distinct, yet they converge on several key issues : i.e., the informal achievement of regionalization in Africa through kinship and other non-state networks ; the resistance of Africans to boundaries inherited from the colonial period ; and the consequences of the arbitrariness of these boundaries. Anyone who has ever crossed the Seme border between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Benin cannot but subscribe to the perceptions shared by the two authors. Whatever the purpose of the trip, travellers crossing the border share the experience of being in a lawless area : the occasional traveller who behaves suspiciously will immediately attract the attention of the immigration officer who begins to search through his papers scrupulously, looking for any error ; on the other hand, the market woman, who knows the system, crosses with ease. The popularization of these border scenes by novels and video productions is significant evidence of the intensity of transborder movements in West Africa, and of the constraints as well as the resources offered by the borders.

3This dual reality of what appears as an obstacle to the implementation of institutionalized regional integration schemes and as the booster of an informal market-driven trade flow, is widely documented and discussed in the two papers. Drawing from the experience of ‘vivisected’ transborder populations (Asiwaju) or from a historical review of the conflict between institutional and trans-state integration (Bach), both contributions call for a revival of regionalism, either through the radical re-conceptualization of existing regional institutions (Asiwaju), or through the coordination of macroeconomic policies on a regional basis as ‘an intermediate objective towards improved global insertion’ (Bach).

4The experience of European integration, though diversely appreciated by the two authors, serves as a reference to the incorporation of state fonctions into larger supranational bodies. For Asiwaju, the most ‘spectacular achievement of European integration’ has been the strengthening of transfrontier regions — now perceived as the cornerstone of the integration of a continent — where even more so than in Africa, state territories and boundaries are characterized by the ‘arbitrariness of their creation and their artificiality’. In Africa too, the cooperative and regional potentials of the boundaries should be focused on by policy makers and researchers. The historical experience of Borgu as reference to remind us that regional unity in diversity is not an exclusively European concept.

5However, the comparison between the European experience of integration and that of Africa should be handled with care. Bach reminds us, for example, that the achievement of the European communautarisation was the result of the progressive incorporation of strong national economies into a broader entity, while the integration projects in Africa usually proceed ‘from interactions initiated by non state actors and interpersonal networks, faced with decaying states, unable or unwilling to assert their sovereignty’.

6The challenge of globalization and the resurgence of ethnic particularism require a coordination of macroeconomic policies on a regional basis. Both contributors subscribe to this, calling for a monitoring of adjustment and donor policies at a regional level, and for the strengthening of these broader bodies as a response to domestic pressures for autonomy.

7The consequence of the partition of former Yugoslavia into smaller entities is a dramatic illustration of the poor capacity of isolated states to resist the bi-polar pressures of globalization on the one hand, and of domestic demands for autonomy on the other hand. Asiwaju and Bach conclude their papers with a series of recommendations that are largely informed by such examples of failure taken from contemporary Europe and Africa.

8Yann Lebeau Director, IFRA-Ibadan

© IFRA-Nigeria, 1999

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