In regions (such as in West Africa and Central America) populated by multiple pintsized fragile states, regionalism offers the best chance to overcome the poisonous and self-reinforcing nexus of identity divisions, weak administrative capacities, undersized markets, and limited human resources. Regional associations of small, poor countries—if allowed to fully leverage regionwide capacities and outside assistance, and if empowered with the necessary authority and staffed by team of competent managers—could gradually transform the institutional environments and economic prospects of their member-states.
These regional organizations could do much to overcome institutional dysfunctionalities. They could, for example, introduce and enforce measures to unite markets, reduce corruption, increase competition, render judiciaries more effective, make border checks and customs procedures more efficient, develop transportation infrastructure between population centers, and promote investment. The regional bodies could recruit executives from the region with experience in working in the developed world or in multinational companies to manage the organization’s administrative and governing organs; with such people on staff, a regional organization would likely outstrip any member-state in terms of the quality of its personnel. Furthermore, foreign technical assistance could be directed at this one umbrella entity instead of divided among far too many, far less capable entities.
Regionalism would also sharply reduce the intergroup tensions that poison the institutional environment of fragile states by lessening the importance of the root cause of intrastate conflict—the dysfunctional state and the opportunities for whomever controls it to exploit and plunder its resources. Robust regional structures would, in fact, do much to improve state structures both through the standards they set and enforce throughout their territory and through the example they would set in regions with few good institutional models to follow. In time, institutions would reinforce each other, strengthening governance throughout a region, the opposite of what happens today in regions where weak states undermine each other’s attempts to advance.
For more information, see:
Assessing Regional Integration for Africa
West African Regionalism
By Seth Kaplan
Accelerating Growth Through Improved Intra-Africa Trade
By the Brookings Institution