The African Economic Community

A few weeks ago I had to travel to Switzerland. As I was preparing for the trip, I wondered whether I needed my passport or if my Spanish ID would suffice. Switzerland doesn’t belong to the European Union but I wasn’t sure about this type of administrative arrangement between it and the EU member countries.  If these doubts arise in relation to a country on the same continent as mine, regarding something as common as crossing borders, imagine what could happen when we’re talking about more distant countries and more complicated administrative procedures! Depending on where you are from, you might not even know that an African Economic Community (AEC) is being created. 

Regional Economic Communities contribute increasing trade
Regional Economic Communities contribute increasing trade

In 1991 a Treaty was signed in Abuja, Nigeria to establish the AEC. The Treaty became operational in 1994. Rather than a starting point, the AEC is the final objective towards which various African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) have been working. I think this is a very African approach: walk the walk together, and focus on the process.

The “active pillars” of the AEC are:

  • COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa)
  • EAC (East Africa Community)
  • ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States)
  • ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States)
  • SADC (Southern Africa Development Community)


The process to create the AEC consists of 6 stages, and it’s meant to last no more than 34 years. If I am not mistaken in my calculations, right now the AEC is at the stage of establishing a Free Trade Area and a Customs Union at the REC level.

My (limited) understanding is that the various RECs are at different levels of development. For instance, the EAC is quite developed. Reforms have been implemented to improve trading times across East Africa. In contrast, ECCAS’ web site is “under construction,” and the most recent news reported on the UA’s site is from 2004.

Have you experienced the benefits of any of these RECs?

You can find out which countries are included in each REC on their web sites. Do you need to dust off your African geography? Spare a couple of  minutes and play this game.



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