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On March 5 2024, the weighty issue of rationalizing Central Africa’s overlapping regional economic communities took center stage at a high-level webinar hosted by the Nkafu Policy Institute.

Dr. Jacob Kotcho, Director of the ECCAS Common Market, was the featured guest. He pulled no punches in his assessment of the moribund rationalization process agreed to by heads of state back in 2009. Lack of consensus on the methodology – whether to fold CEMAC and the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL) into ECCAS or dissolve all existing bodies to create an entirely new community – has led to policy paralysis.

“The different perceptions of the rationalization approach has been the main stumbling block,” Dr. Kotcho stated bluntly. Over a decade of dithering has eroded credibility and ruptured trust between regional actors.

Compounding the political inertia are severe financial constraints. Despite agreeing to annual contributions of CFA 30 million per country to fund the process, many states have withheld payments. “An urgent mobilization of adequate resources is absolutely essential,” Kotcho implored.

The path forward however remains obstructed by the clashing visions of either subsuming CEMAC and CEPGL under ECCAS’s umbrella, already recognized by the African Union, or pursuing a politically cumbersome “merger by dissolution” of all three bodies into an entirely new community.

Whichever route is chosen, Dr. Kotcho stressed the paramount importance of formal, unambiguous ratification by national authorities to provide clear policy directives and restore credibility. Halfhearted political commitment has been the overriding impediment.

Ultimately, as the webinar highlighted, the onus lies with Central African leaders to finally address this long-simmering quagmire. A unified, economically integrated region carries tremendous potential benefits – from smoother cross-border mobility to attracting greater investment inflows. But that prize will remain elusive without fearless political leadership to resolve standardization between the dizzying array of regulatory regimes.

Watch the full webinar here.