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Central African Economy Ministers Meet to Merge Regional Economic Groupings

FILE - Central Africa's chiefs state attend the extraordinary summit of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) in Libreville, Gabon, Dec.18, 2019.
FILE - Central Africa's chiefs state attend the extraordinary summit of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) in Libreville, Gabon, Dec.18, 2019.

Central African ministers meeting in Cameroon have agreed to merge two regional blocs in a move to boost trade and growth. The 11-member Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) will join with the six-member Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC). The deal aims to eliminate rivalry that has helped to make central Africa the poorest region among Africa’s economic groups.

Central African economy ministers say they want to foster regional integration, accelerate economic transformation and facilitate development by merging the two economic blocs.

Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Chad are members of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa, or CEMAC, while the Economic Community of Central African States, ECCAS, is made up of all CEMAC member states plus Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Sao Tome and Principe.

Charles Assamba Ongodo heads the unit of a pilot committee created by central African heads of state to merge CEMAC and ECCAS.

Ongodo said having one economic bloc instead of two will reduce administrative duplication and associated costs.

“The sub-region will be more integrated, more competitive, efficient and strong enough to compete with the other regions. We have some countries that are stronger in central Africa that could push the rest,” said Ongodo.

ECCAS was created in 1983 to reduce inequality and poverty in central Africa. Central African leaders created CEMAC about a decade later, launching it in 1999 for the same purpose.

The African Union reports that free movement of people and goods remains a dream in a majority of central African states. The absence of a functioning common market and customs union envisaged by Central African leaders when they created the two structures has further deepened poverty.

Moise Taboue, one of the pilot committee’s consultants, says the effects of Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine underscore the need for central Africa to merge its two economic structures and focus on its development.

Taboue said central African states produce about 5% of pharmaceutical products they need and spend $269 million to import pharmaceutical products from Europe each year despite their huge potential. He said the over-dependency of central African states on imports is responsible for hardships among civilians caused by scarcity and spiraling food and commodity prices since Russia launched its war in Ukraine in February of this year.

Taboue said most of the region's civilians live on less than $1 a day while 40% of the population suffer from hunger in the midst of plenty. He blamed the situation on regional government officials whom he said consider integration as a threat to each country’s sovereignty.

Together, ECCAS and CEMAC constitute a market of more than 240 million inhabitants and is the least integrated region in Africa, according to the African Union.

Cross-border business among central African states is estimated at less than 5% against a continental average of about 20 percent. The region lacks developed land, air and sea communication, which constitutes an enormous obstacle to integration.

The ministers meeting in Cameroon on Wednesday said the two blocs will be merged before the end of 2023.