Regional integration is the processes in which states go beyond the removal of obstacles to interactions between their countries and create regional space which is subjected to some distinct common rules. States pursue regional integration for various reasons, for the then newly independent countries it was mainly to settle down in their relations between themselves and their former colonial masters, between them and former colonial powers and with others, often rival powers. The real intent is really to consolidate their international identity. Second, regional integration helps in managing interdependency particularly in economic and social interaction and on issues of peace and security. Thirdly, there is the rational for managing internationalization for instance the interrelationship between various regional arrangements and the world global system.
Regional integration agreements may focus on economic, social and political fields may take various forms. These include functional cooperation, which refers to limited arrangements which are agreed between states in order to work together in particular areas e.g. transport, energy, health. The other is economic cooperation which refers, to agreements which foresee some degree of commercial preferentialism, but with harmonization of domestic rules for common action in international affairs. In addition there is Political cooperation which entails mutual support and commitment relating to the implementation of values and practices within the countries. Finally there is cooperation in foreign and security affairs, whereby the states systematically inform and consult and try to adopt common positions at the international level. In economic integration, several phases have been identified, namely free trade area, customs union, common market and the monetary union.
Regional Integration as a process involves the growth of linkages and transaction derived primarily from economic activity but involving social and interconnectedness. Integration has also been and referred to as the process by which supranational institutions replace national ones i.e. the gradual shifting upwards of sovereignty from state to regional or global structures. Regional integration or economic integration has further been viewed as a product of arrangements among countries which enhance their interaction mainly through elimination or lowering of tariff barriers to trade.
Regional blocs have had some success in functional cooperation, whereby limited arrangements are agreed between states to work together in particular areas e.g. transport, energy and health among other areas. However they have often experienced difficulties relating to institutional weaknesses complicated by the multiplicity of arrangements requiring some measures of rationalization.
Cooperation and integration are not mutually exclusive. They are both approaches for regional governance pursued for the different sectors and dimensions in regional relations. In practical usage all regional integration bloc’s systems have a mixture of both.
In Africa there are several regional bloc’s that straddle the continent, key among them the East Africa Community (EAC) Common Market for Eastern and Southern African (COMESA), Economic Commission for Western African States (ECOWAS) Southern African Community (SADC),International conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) .Others include the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) and Association of Eastern and Southern Asian Countries (ASEAC) and the European Union which is supra national and is perhaps the most successful regional bloc.
Integration as a result of globalization has led to the creation of intense and diversified patterns of interaction among previously autonomous units like in the case of the EAC whereby Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania Burundi and Rwanda who have come together forming the EAC. These creations may be partly economic like in the case of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), which in character, is partly social and partly political. The EAC itself takes in its stride the three patterns of a customs Union, common
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