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International diffusion and the puzzle of African regionalism: insights from West Africa

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posted on 14.10.2016, 10:39 by Giulia PiccolinoGiulia Piccolino
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.


This work was written while benefiting from a fellowship provided by the Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation. Although the ideas developed in this paper are not directly related to the original project’s theoretical framework, this paper is based on a research trip to West Africa carried as part of the project “The EU, Regional Conflicts and the Promotion of Regional Cooperation: A Successful Strategy for a Global Challenge?” (Regioconf). Regioconf was funded by the programme ‘Europe and Global Challenges’, jointly developed by the Compagnia di San Paolo, the Volkswagen Stiftung and the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.



  • Social Sciences


  • Politics and International Studies


PICCOLINO, G., 2016. International diffusion and the puzzle of African regionalism: insights from West Africa. UNU Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies.


UNU Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies / © United Nations University


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Also available online at: http://cris.unu.edu/sites/cris.unu.edu/files/W-2016-1.pdf

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UNU-CRIS Working Papers;W-2016/1