Share this:

By Dr Jean Cedric Kouam & Sob Kamwa Francois Melvin Kamtchoum


The unification of Regional Economic Communities (RECs) aims to pool community resources in order to optimize the performance and results of existing regional blocs in a given region. This comes into play following an observation of institutional overlapping, and duplication of efforts due to the multiplicity of RECs with similar missions, operating within a common geographical area (the same member countries). This situation weakens the regional integration process, while slowing down its progress and limiting its impact on the socio-economic development of States. In Africa, this process goes in line with the African Union’s objective of compensating for the weakness in trade between countries, the narrow nature of sub-regional markets, the juxtaposition and plethora of community organizations in a context of scarcity of resources. In Central Africa, the unification of RECs seeks to establish a single REC in order to replace the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), and the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CPEGL). This unification should lead to a single Community in the sub-region. During the 14th Conference for Heads of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) States which held in October 2009 in Kinshasa, the President of the Republic of Cameroon was mandated by his peers to lead this process. To this day, there has been significant progress. These include the unification of the ECCAS and CEMAC free trade areas; the drafting of a customs code, a common external tariff and a common trade policy; the adoption of twelve areas of priority for unification (trade, health, free movement of people and goods, mechanisms for integration funding, security, budgetary and monetary regulations, assembly of institutional frameworks, etc.). As 2023 marked the launching of the new and sole REC’s activities, it is timely to review the progress achieved, the persistent difficulties encountered and the means of overcoming the latter.

Assessment of the Unification of Regional Economic Communities in Central Africa

Central Africa is host to three economic communities: The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Central African Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), and the Economic Community of the Great Lake Countries (CEPGL). The ECCAS was created on 18th October 1983 though it became fully operational in December 1984. It leads the process of regional integration in Central Africa and is recognized by the African Union. The ECCAS hosts eleven member countries: Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, and Chad). The CEMAC treaty (comprising six countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad) was signed on 16th March 1994 in N’Djamena (Chad) and became operational in June 1999. It has equally made of the “integration” concept its repetition, with a clearly-stated objective defined at the highest level of its member States so as to result into a real and concrete pooling of efforts to manage the resources in the Central African sub-region for the benefit of one and all. CEMAC includes 6 countries of the ECCAS. The Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL) is composed of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Rwanda. CEPGL was created on 20th September 1976 to promote economic integration and facilitate movement of goods and people between countries in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa.

The Heads of State of the ECCAS and CEMAC took a decision to unify RECs in Central Africa. This decision seeks to create a single economic community in our region that is united, strong and prosperous. It is about aligning the integration process dynamically to the objectives of the African Union in order to effectively respond to the development needs of the community and its member States. Thus, the unification of RECs includes the creation of a common free trade area in Central Africa via the unification of the ECCAS and CEMAC free trade areas, the defining and approval of a common external tariff and a customs code. Several actions had been undertaken by various stakeholders to merge the ECCAS and CEMAC into a single entity by 2023. On 9th and 13th November 2020 and from the 24th to 28th May 2021, the Steering Committee experts of Central African RECs (COPIL/CER-AC) held working sessions which resulted in the approval of the founding legal draft texts of the new regional economic community intended to replace the ECCAS and CEMAC.

At the fifth meeting of the COPIL/CER-AC Ministers’ Council held in Yaoundé on 11th and 12th August 2022, the report of the study conducted on assembling the institutional frameworks of Central African RECs, and the constitutive treaty draft of the new REC were approved by the Ministers’ Council. A solid recommendation given at the meeting was to integrate CEPGL institutions into the architecture of the imminent REC, while awaiting a pending decision from the community’s decision-making bodies.  The approval of other draft texts will be done by the COPIL/CER-AC Ministers’ Council. This is about the Draft Conventions governing the Court of Justice and Human Rights, the Convention governing the Parliament, and the protocol governing the High Monetary Authority of Central Africa. The approval of these texts had been postponed to a latter session, and this reflected a significant delay in the unification process of the Central African Economic Community. However, it should be noted that these texts have already been validated by the COPIL/CER-AC Experts Unit.

Challenges of the Unification of Regional Economic Communities in Central Africa

Lack of political willingness reflected in the delayed meeting of announced deadlines

The unification process of RECs in Central Africa was scheduled to end in 2023, as announced by Cameroon’s Minister of the Economy, Planning and Regional Development, who is also Chairman of COPIL/CER-AC (MINEPAT, 2011). In the absence of a case of force majeure announced by those entitled to do so, it is easy to see that eminent political decisions have not been taken in order to achieve the unification. This demonstrates a lack of political will on the part of decision-makers.

Strategic planning different from member States integration

The State institution under which regional integration is placed at national level defines the orientation a country gives to its integration. Out of the eleven (11) member States in the sub-region, five (5) have placed regional integration under the banner of diplomacy or foreign affairs[1], four (4) placed it under the banner of the economy and planning,[2] one placed it under the Presidency of the Republic,[3]  and the other one has made it a full-fledged[4]  ministry.  Therefore, we have countries that regard integration as a politico-strategic opportunity (ECA & African Union, 2006, p. 78), and others that see integration as an economic opportunity and more. This difference in the orientation of national policies could create divergences within the Steering Committee in charge of the unification of RECs in Central Africa, and hinder the unification process.

Relegation of private sector and civil society to the background

The private sector and civil society, though being main beneficiaries of integration seem to be relegated to the background both in the unification and integration of RECs. The economic aspect of integration lies in the private sector, as production ought to practically no longer be a State concern (ECA & African Union, 2006, p. 96). In addition, the private sector could be involved in drafting community policies and providing advice to the COPIL/CER-AC in the context of unification, particularly through the Union des Patronats d’Afrique centrale (UNIPACE). As far as civil society is concerned, it has been observed that unification lacks a real popular reach. Most of the people are unaware of this unification or even lack general knowledge of the integration taking place in the sub-region. The mechanisms put in place to ensure the effective participation of the people are inadequate. So, this process is likely to succeed if it includes the civil society rather than being led solely by governments (ECA & African Union, 2006, p. 98).

Risk of exogenous interference.

The possible reactions of powers using certain REC bodies as a tool for dominion could act as a major risk to unification. Recently, it has been sufficiently ascertained that certain external actors react through RECs organs in order to maintain a stronghold on countries in the sub-region. This is the case with institutions such as the Bank of Central African States (BEAC), a key institution in the monetary integration of CEMAC countries but in reality, is infiltrated. A single country holds 50% of the BEAC’s external reserves under the pretext of guaranteeing the CFA franc’s convertibility to the Euro. In addition, it is an integral part of the BEAC with a veto right (BEAC) though not found in Central Africa. As a result, CEMAC countries do not possess real sovereignty in terms of financial integration. Consequently, there poses a risk that such an actor will interfere in the unification process, and a definite risk that non-CEMAC States will reject monetary and financial integration.

Priorities specific to each State

The normal existence of a State implies priorities specific to the realities of that State. From this point of view, each State presents its own priorities at the regional integration table with. This therefore becomes challenging for these States because they still carry along the burden of priorities specific to their individual realities while advocating for integration with a common voice. There will inevitably be an influence on their decision-making within RECs, resulting in a scene where everyone will try to pull the wool over their own eyes. The consequences will be difficulties in reaching consensus on decisions linked to the advancement of integration in the sub-region.

Insufficient financial resources

A major difficulty facing the unification process is the lack of funding (COPIL/CER-AC, 2022). The unavailability of resources due to arrears of certain states and RECs to COPIL/CER-AC is slowing down the unification process in the sub-region.

Possible actions towards realizing the Unification of regional economic communities in Central Africa

Reducing associated costs

One of the difficulties facing the unification process is that of funding, as stakeholders struggle to meet their financial obligations. In order to alleviate this burden, streamlined activities could be carried out exclusively by teleconference. This would reduce the financial costs of organizing face-to-face meetings in member countries.

Participation of the private sector and civil society

The private sector and civil society are two essential channels of effective integration. Economic integration relies primarily on the private sectors in the sub-region. It is thus imperative to seek their advice on the process to avoid repeating the same mistakes made in the former RECs. The civil society equally acts as a counter-power which is able to hold states accountable; in other words, it is capable of exerting pressure to speed up the streamlining process. The inclusion of these two actors in the process is likely to make unification a reality.

Rethinking economic and political integration

In a capitalist world, everything is based first and foremost on capital, and hence on economic interests. Unification and regional integration as a whole must be based on strong economic ties. A strong economy implies good governance, an area in which Central Africa fails to excel.  Today, the best constraint or dissuasion weapon available for States to use against each other is the loss of economic interests. We therefore need strong economic links upstream so that unification can be accelerated downstream and give rise to an REC that is strong enough in terms of the economic interests it represents for member countries to force them to adopt good governance, which is the only guarantee of a strong economy.


The aim of this paper was to assess the progress achieved in the unification of regional economic communities in Central Africa. Although there has already been significant progress, the deadline for finalizing the process set for December 2023, has been largely crossed. Faced with several obstacles, the great economic and social heterogeneity between countries represents a major challenge. There is an urgent need for the key actors involved in this process to consider the need to revise the criteria for multilateral monitoring, setting precise and specific objectives for each country to obtain their desired results. Such an approach will facilitate each country’s commitment to the process. A strong political will is equally required to accompany this initiative in order to implement the decisions taken and have a greater involvement of public opinion (the citizens).

[1] Burundi: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation; Gabon: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in charge of Sub-Regional Integration and Gabonese Living Abroad; Rwanda: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; Chad: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and African Integration; and Sao Tome and Principe: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Communities.

[2] Angola: Ministry of Economy and Planning; Cameroon: Ministry of the Economy, Planning and Regional Development; Congo: Ministry of Planning, Statistics and Regional Integration; and Central African Republic: Ministry of Economy, Planning and International Cooperation.

[3] Democratic Republic of the Congo: Ministry of Regional Integration.

[4] Equatorial Guinea: Minister at the Presidency in charge of Regional Integration.