EU’s contribution to East Africa’s regional integration efforts

Regional integration is complex in Africa, where a single country often belongs to several overlapping regional organisations. The EU is supporting the integration efforts of the Eastern Africa region under the Cotonou Partnership Agreement. This article was originally published in the 10th issue (April 2018) of The Ethiopian Messenger, the quarterly magazine of the Embassy of Ethiopia in Brussels.

The EU contribution to the integration efforts of the Eastern Africa region is taking place within the context of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement uniting 79 ACP member states with the EU 28 countries under a legally binding agreement. Among the ACP countries, 48 are from SubSahara Africa, 16 from the Caribbean and 15 from the Pacific Region. The 48 African nations are geographically divided into four regions (West, Central, Eastern, Southern), making the ACP a six-regional inter-governmental grouping with similar development aspiration and cultural background. The current development cooperation arrangement between EU and ACP countries incorporates at its centre a financial protocol known as the European Development Fund (EDF), which plays a crucial part of the agreement and provide financial support to ACP counties in various forms. The EDF is interlinked with other parts of the agreement that include trading arrangements such as the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPAs) and political dialogue (on human rights, democratic principles, …) between the EU and ACP.

Regional Frameworks

The EDF financial protocol devolves into three financial envelopes: the first one is National Indicative Programme (NIP), which is agreed and jointly administered between an ACP beneficial country and the EU, the Regional Indicative Programme (RIP) between an ACP region and the EU, and the Intra-ACP Programme, which aims to foster the linkage and integration between the six regions of the ACP group by focusing on commonalities among all the ACP countries. It also intends to complement NIPs and RIPs at the ACP grouping level. The case of RIP is somewhat complex in Africa, where a single country often belongs to several overlapping regional organisations. For example, Ethiopia is a member of the Eastern Africa group, one of the six regions of the ACP, when it comes decision making and other consultation within the ACP. However, when it comes to the Regional Indicative Programme (RIP), the East Africa Region is merged with other regions to form the bigger Eastern Africa (EA), Southern Africa (SA) and Indian Ocean (IO) region. The EA-SA-IO region is made up of 25 African countries with diverse political and socio-economic backgrounds and that are members of one or more Regional Organizations. Such kind of complex regional arrangement makes it complicated to implement any program in the 11th EDF. In consequence, the implementation process requires greater coordination, capacity and flexibility.

The coordinating aspect of the implementation is collectively undertaken by the Duly Mandated Regional Organizations (DMROs) which are COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa), EAC (East African Community), IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development), IOC (Indian Ocean Commission) and SADC (Southern African Development Community). Due to this peculiar character of the region, a single Regional Indicative Programme is devised for the collective overview and programming of the five Duly Mandated Regional Organization, as stated in the Cotonou Agreement (Annex 4, Article 7) regarding regions with overlapping memberships across the regional organisations.

EU objectives in EA: fighting insecurity and poverty

The RIP exercise is primarily driven by the EU and offers a glimpse of EU’s policy interest towards the region. The EU has obviously an interest in a stable, peaceful and prosperous EA-SA-IO region. These interests are defined by the sub-region geostrategic importance particularly that of the Horn of Africa, where the EU has historically tried to protect vulnerable populations, including refugees and internally displaced persons and support the sub-region for self-sustaining economic growth. The implementation of these priorities underpins EU’s regional interests (for example these are enshrined in the EU Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa). This Strategic Framework takes a regional approach in supporting EA-SA-IO countries by addressing the link between insecurity, poverty and governance.

A key objective is to promote sustainable development by enhancing intra-regional trade. This kind of integration will further contribute to the realisation of development goals, poverty alleviation, as well as improved conditions for investment, private sector development and decent job creation. However, to make these become a reality, EA-SA-IO countries need to take their national priorities into account in addition to the EU interest stated above (such as Agenda for Change policy document) as well as their own regional needs while setting out priorities in the RIP programming process.

Defining RIP priorities

The process of identifying priority areas under RIP and the subsequent financial allocation was a gradual exercise. The RIP programming exercise that started in 2012 attempted to adopt a participatory approach by bringing together the five DMROs and the EU to coordinate the programming and formulation processes. In practice, the EU drove the whole process as it was providing the funding. As the process required and continues to require higher internal coordination among the DMROs, within their member states and with other stakeholders, it allowed the EA-SA-IO RIP to become an instrument that mainly supports EPA negotiation and implementation. The total Regional Indicative Programme for EA-SA-IO region is 1.332 billion euros divided into three envelopes (allocations for regional organisations; infrastructure; cross-regional programmes), with an overall focus on peace and security, regional economic integration, and natural resource management.


The allocation for IGAD is 80 million euros which will cover the conflict, early warning and response mechanism, mediation and preventive diplomacy, and countering transnational security threats; reducing barriers to free movement of persons (regional economic integration); and resilience of pastoralist populations and promoting sustainable ecosystem rehabilitation (natural resource management). And an additional amount of 5 euros million for building the capacity of the IGAD Secretariat. The biggest chunk of the financial allocation is Infrastructure projects across the entire region which will receive 600 million euros. This is expected to be used primarily for blending with funds from investment banks such as EIB. A further 205 million euros is available for seven cross-regional programmes covering the Great Lakes, migration, maritime security, the interim Economic Partnership Agreement, transboundary water management, sustainable fisheries, and wildlife conservation. In 2017, 10 million euro was also approved to the Nile Basin Initiative project from the finance allocated under Natural resource management of the current RIP.


There are also regional implementation challenges: The first is almost all countries of the EA-SA-IO region are members of at least two regional organisations, a situation which poses problems to both regional integration and EU support to the region. An attempt to address this challenge is the Tripartite Free Trade Area Agreement between COMESA-SADC-EAC States, which committed them to the establishment of a single Free Trade Area covering 26 countries. The Tripartite process was launched in 2008, and the modalities for creating the FTA are still being negotiated. The second issue is that Eastern Africa, and particularly the Horn of Africa sub-region, is characterised by a long history of underdevelopment and conflict. This requires strong political commitment from the region and sustained a financial support by partner countries and organisations. In this light, EU needs to continue its contribution to a peaceful and developed region by supporting consensus and political dialogue as is the case in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan via its financial support to AMISOM and UNMISS, UNISFA, peacekeeping mission. The principle of complementarity between a RIP and National Indicative Program (NIP) is another critical point that should be looked at in view of efficient utilisation of EU’s financial support.

For example, in the case of Ethiopia, the financial and technical support of EU (under EDF) to Ethiopia’s economic development agenda is complemented to some extent by earlier RIPs. This becomes visible when we look at EU assistance to Ethiopia which focuses on support for infrastructure development, food security, good governance, and capacity building. Since the early days of its cooperation with Ethiopia, the EU has provided substantial support for the infrastructure sector, and since 2006, it has provided budget support to Ethiopia’s road sector development programme (RSDP). This sector has synergies with other sectors contributing to connecting Ethiopia with its neighbours and foster regional infrastructure integration and trade linkages. For example, rural development and food security are supported by the development of rural roads and private sector development is supported by capacity building of the domestic construction industry. As the way forward, one new feature envisaged and dully pursued under the 11th EDF – RIP is the principle to allow member states have direct access to finance rather than having all funding channelled through the regional organisations. The second is the process of submitting projects for funding under the infrastructure envelope must be agreed in advance between member countries, the various RECs and EU regarding project identification, having a clear timetable for submission etc. Governments of the region need to discuss proposals with EIB. Other projects to be funded through the Regional Programme could be subject to a call for proposals, and member countries could apply. On the other hand, activities financed through RIP should be implemented by individual Governments if they fall within the regional framework. But all this must be negotiated and agreed between the EU, the five RECs and all the member countries to efficiently utilise the allocated fund and contribute to greater regional integration.