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Key findings
  • On average across 36 countries, a majority (56%) of Africans say they should be able to move freely across international borders in order to trade or work in other countries. But in 15 countries, less than half of citizens support free cross-border movement. Support is strongest in West and East Africa and weakest in North Africa.1
  • Only one in four citizens (26%) say it is “easy” or “very easy” to cross international borders in order to work or trade in other countries. Central and West African countries are most likely to describe crossing borders as “difficult” or “very difficult.”
  • Only one-third (34%) of respondents agree that governments should help guarantee free elections and human rights in neighbouring countries, while 58% instead emphasize the need to respect national sovereignty.
  • About six of 10 citizens across 36 countries say the AU (58%) and respective regional organisations (61%) help their country at least “a little bit”; about four of 10 say they help “somewhat” or “a lot.” Liberians have by far the most positive perceptions of AU and REC (ECOWAS) assistance, while only one-fourth of Moroccans consider the AU and REC (UMA) even slightly helpful.
  • Many citizens still know little about what these organisations are doing: About three in 10 citizens say they don’t know enough about the AU (30%) or their respective RECs (28%) to assess their helpfulness. But access to information makes a difference: Citizens who often listen to radio news are more likely to consider the AU and regional organisations helpful than are those who consume radio news less frequently.

Regional integration has been a development strategy for Africa for decades. The African Economic Community’s founding treaty in 1991 provided a framework targeting full political and economic integration by 2019. Many African countries have signed on to foster political and economic cooperation. The promotion of social and cultural development, economic integration and trade, and free movement of persons and goods are fundamental principles for continental and regional organisations, including the African Union (AU), the African Development Bank (AfDB), and regional economic communities (RECs), with the ultimate goal of creating a unified continental market.

Despite this emphasis, Africa’s record on regional integration has not been impressive. Fragmented regulations, high trade tariffs, complicated customs procedures, and disjointed transport and energy infrastructure continue to prevent the continent from turning “rhetoric into reality” in a powerful pan-African market (Ibrahim, 2016).

As calls to action, the AU’s Agenda 2063 (African Union Commission, 2015)) and the AfDB’s Regional Integration Policy and Strategy 2014-2023 (African Development Bank Group, 2015) lay out blueprints for moving forward on integration, with an initial focus on trade and market integration, free movement of people, and infrastructure development. A new Africa Regional Integration Index, launched in 2016 by the AU Commission, the AfDB, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, is designed to jumpstart progress and track it through independent, high-quality data (African Union Commission, 2016).

If progress depends in part on public support for integration, survey data on public attitudes might make a useful contribution on this issue. In its latest round of surveys, Afrobarometer asked citizens in 36 countries four relevant questions: whether they prefer free or restricted cross-border movement of people and goods, how easy or difficult cross-border movement currently is, whether governments should assume a regional role in protecting democracy and human rights or instead respect their neighbours’ sovereignty, and how helpful they think the AU and RECs are to their countries.

Findings suggest limited support for integration, with wide variations by country and region. On average across 36 countries, a majority of Africans favour free cross-border movement of people and goods, but this is not the majority view in 15 of those countries. Meanwhile, only one in four citizens say it’s easy to cross international borders.

When asked to choose between respecting national sovereignty vs. a regional role for states in protecting free elections and human rights in neighbouring countries, most Africans emphasize national sovereignty. And while a majority of Africans consider the AU and RECs at least “a little bit” helpful to their countries, this is not the case in all countries, and about three in 10 citizens don’t know enough about these organisations to have an opinion.

Click ‘Download now’  below for the full report. Read the press release here.

Markus Olapade

Markus Olapade is thdirector of the Institute for Empirical Research in Political Economy (IREEP) and a professor at the African School of Economics.

Edem E. Selormey

Edem E. Selormey previously served a senior research fellow at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana).

Horace Gninafon

Horace Gninafon est assistant de recherches à l'Institut de Recherche Empirique en Economie Politique (IREEP) au Bénin.