Challenges and Prospects for the Transformation of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa by 2025.

AuthorMude, Torque


The transformation of the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) to a full regional economic community has been confronted with several political and economic challenges. While members of COMESA concluded the COMESA Treaty in which they undertook to cooperate in trade, labor, transport, communication, peace and security within a common market and to progress to an economic community, the achievement of these objectives has left a lot to be desired. Even though headway has been made in respect of the movement of goods, people and capital among other modalities, state individualism appears to have persisted within the institution.

From an institutionalist perspective, the existence of COMESA as a common market since its establishment has benefited the member states; however, an in-depth analysis of the institution points to the fact that the shortcomings of achieving free trade have outweighed the benefits of trading freely within the common market. Hence, the challenges that have confronted the realisation of the full benefits of a common market have culminated to hinder the transformation of COMESA to full and competitive economic community.

At the epicenter of the challenges that have hindered the development of COMESA to a full regional economic community is the selfish nature of the state. Apart from agreeing to cooperate especially on trade related issues, each COMESA member state has appeared to be concerned by its own individual interests that it unilaterally pursues. This is not to imply that the members are not committed to economic integration. It should be understood that behind economic cooperation lies state interests that require the state to always pursue selfishly as its foreign policy goals and objectives. To this end, the transformation of the organisation to a full economic community has been a mammoth task given the obstacles at hand. It is therefore the focus of this paper to examine the challenges transforming COMESA to a full regional economic community. Notwithstanding the challenges that COMESA is facing to becoming a fully fledged economic community, prospects for the successful transition from a common market to an economic community should not be dismissed. Concerted efforts that have culminated in various summits of heads of states are tips of the iceberg that by 2025 COMESA could have successfully transformed to an economic community with zero custom tariffs on inter-COMESA trade. Furthermore, the experiences of not-so-free trade that COMESA members have exposed each other to could work to catalyse the progression of COMESA to an economic community, provided they learn from the past and present and work collectively towards the common goal of having an economic community. More so, issues of protectionism, overlapping membership and other challenges can be dealt at the multilateral level to promote the establishment of an economic community.

COMESA was established in 1994 as a successor of the Preferential Trade Area that had existed since the year 1981. According to the COMESA Treaty, COMESA was established as an "organisation of free independent states which have agreed to cooperate in developing their natural and human resources for the good of all their people" and to promote peace and security in Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA Treaty, 1994). Members of COMESA include Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. An analysis of the COMESA member states reveals that there are some influential states from both Eastern and Southern Africa that are not part of COMESA. For instance, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Tanzania are not state parties to COMESA. Even though membership of regional economic communities is voluntary, the absence of other states can be interpreted as a sign of divisions with the two sub-regions which has undoubtedly slowed the progress of turning the common market to a full economic community.

As a common market, COMESA's primary objective is to foster economic integration through promoting free trade among the nineteen member states. Hence, at the turn of the new millennium, a Free Trade Area (FTA) was realised among Djibouti, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe with the elimination of tariffs among COMESA-originating products pursuant to the 1992 tariff reduction schedule (Overview of COMESA, Nd). Burundi and Rwanda joined the FTA in 2004 (Ibid). While these developments are an expression of commitment to regional economic integration, the absence of the eight other COMESA members from the FTA can be interpreted as a drawback to trade liberalisation and economic integration in Eastern and Southern Africa.

It can also be argued that the absence of other COMESA members for the 2000 FTA illustrates the extent of individualism among other member states. It suffices to highlight that some of the members missing from the FTA are members of other...

To continue reading

Request your trial