International Diffusion and the Puzzle of African Regionalism: Insights from West Africa

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UNU Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies
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UNU-CRIS Working Papers
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Since decolonization, Sub-Saharan Africa has seen the birth of a large number of regional initiatives whose institutional set up and high integration ambitions are inspired by the model of the European Union (EU). West Africa’s sub-regional organizations: the Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS) and the Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA), are clear examples of this pattern of diffusion. However, African regionalism is often decried as ineffective, in particular in the domain of trade and economic cooperation. Two arguments have been usually put forward in order to explain the simultaneous adoption of the EU model of integration in Africa and its mixed outcomes: constructivist scholars have emphasized normative tensions, while area studies specialists have focused on the neo-patrimonial nature of African politics. Looking at West Africa as a case study, this article argues that both perspectives have limits. Structural constraints and sociological institutionalist theory appear more appropriate in order to account for the mixed record of regionalism in Africa. It is argued that these challenges seem to be less specifically ‘African’ than usually thought.

regional integration, Africa, ECOWAS, UEMOA, European Union, institutional sociology