Economic integration has not left out the Middle East and Africa, although progress there is more limited than in any other geographic region. Its limited success is due mostly to the small size of the countries involved and their relatively low level of development. The largest of these coalitions are the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Economic Community of West African States.
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
Several Middle Eastern nations formed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1980. Members of the GCC are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The primary purpose of the GCC at its formation was to cooperate with the increasingly powerful trading blocs in Europe at the time—the EU and EFTA. The GCC has evolved, however, to become as much a political entity as an economic one. Its cooperative thrust allows citizens of member countries to travel freely in the GCC without visas. It also permits citizens of one member nation to own land, property, and businesses in any other member nation without the need for local sponsors or partners.
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was formed in 1975 but restarted efforts at economic integration in 1992 because of a lack of early progress. One of the most important goals of ECOWAS (www.ecowas.int) is the formation of a customs union, an eventual common market, and a monetary union. Together, the ECOWAS nations comprise a large portion of the economic activity in sub-Saharan Africa.
Progress on market integration is almost nonexistent. In fact, the value of trade occurring among ECOWAS nations is just 11 percent of the value that the trade members undertake with third parties. But ECOWAS has made progress in the free movement of people, construction of international roads, and development of international telecommunication links. Some of its main problems are due to political instability, poor governance, weak national economies, poor infrastructure, and poor economic policies.
Gwari women carry firewood on their backs in the village of Gwagwalada, which is about 20 miles from Abuja in the middle of Nigeria. A growing number of Nigerians from rural areas are beginning to cut down more trees for domestic firewood as an alternative energy following the increase of kerosene prices. Nigeria participates in the regional trading bloc known as ECOWAS to improve the lives of ordinary people, such as the women pictured here.
Source: Ceorge Esiri/Reuters/CORBIS-NY.
African Union (AU)
A group of 53 nations on the African continent joined forces in 2002 to create the African Union (AU). Heads of state of nations belonging to the Organization of African Unity paved the way for the AU (www.africa-union.org) when they signed the Sirte Declaration in 1999.
The AU is based on the vision of a united and strong Africa and on the need to build a partnership between governments and all segments of civil society to strengthen cohesion among the peoples of Africa. Its ambitious goals are to promote peace, security, and stability across Africa and to accelerate economic and political integration while addressing problems compounded by globalization. Specifically, the stated aims of the AU are to: (1) rid the continent of the remaining vestiges of colonialism and apartheid, (2) promote unity and solidarity among African states, (3) coordinate and intensify cooperation for development; (4) safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of members, and (5) promote international cooperation within the framework of the United Nations.
It is too early to judge the success of the AU, but there is no shortage of opportunities on the continent for it to demonstrate its capabilities. Ethnic violence in the Darfur region of Sudan continues despite heavy involvement by the AU in solving the problem. The people of Africa have much to gain from an effective and successful African Union.