COMESA: History

The idea for a common market in the region existed long before the creation of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). During the post-independence period in Africa, there was a general feeling of collective self-reliance, which motivated many countries in Africa to consider the implementation of either a Pan-African economic agreement or individual sub-regional agreements. Overall, it was the idea for sub-regional economic communities that prevailed and spurred the events that eventually led to the founding of COMESA. 

The first of these events was a ministerial meeting held in Lusaka, Zambia, in 1965. During this meeting, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) considered proposals for the establishment of a unifying organization and recommended the creation of an economic community. A subsequent meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, resulted in 10 countries signing Terms of Association for the later signing of a formal treaty. These 10 countries were Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania, and Zambia. 

The urgency of integration became apparent in the 1970s with the occurrence of events, such as the collapse of federations in eastern and central Africa and increasing dependence on northern industrialized countries. The most significant of these culminating events, however, was probably the destabilization of economies of the southern African states by apartheid in South Africa. 

At a meeting of Ministers of Trade, Finance, and Planning in Lusaka, Zambia, during March 1978, a recommendation was made for the creation of a sub-regional Preferential Trade Area (PTA). This PTA, which would be designed to become a common market after 10 years, was decided on in the adoption of the Lusaka Declaration of Intent and Commitment to the Establishment of a Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern Africa. The PTA was finally established with the signing of a treaty on December 21, 1981, in Lusaka and its subsequent ratification on September 30, 1982. 

The PTA treaty called for a gradual transition to a common market, and in 1993 that transition began. The COMESA Treaty was signed on November 5, 1993, in Kampala, Uganda, by 16 founding member states: Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The treaty was then ratified in Lilongwe, Malawi, on December 8, 1994. 

Since the initial signing of the COMESA Treaty in 1993, there have been several changes to COMESA membership. In 1994 the community gained five new members: Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, and Tanzania. Three years later, in 1997, Lesotho and Mozambique withdrew their membership from COMESA. On January 6, 1999, Egypt joined COMESA. Tanzania quit COMESA on September 2, 2001. Over the next decade, Seychelles (2001) and Libya (2005) joined COMESA; Namibia quit during 2004; and Angola suspended itself from membership during 2007. Today the community has 19 member states. 

On June 23, 2000, COMESA, as a member of the Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP Countries), signed a treaty with the European Union (EU) in Cotonou, Benin. This treaty, which is known as the Cotonou Agreement, entered into force on April 1, 2003. The 2000 version of the agreement allowed the EU to trade with the ACP Countries on a non-reciprocal basis, meaning that the ACP Countries would have tax-free access to EU markets, but the EU would have to pay taxes to enter the markets of the ACP Countries. The EU and ACP Countries implemented the concept of non-reciprocity for the benefit of the developing African countries, but its existence was against the policies of the World Trade Organization. Therefore, in 2005, with the introduction of the revised Cotonou Agreement, a provision was added to transform from non-reciprocity to an Economic Partnership Agreement in 2008. 

In October 2009, COMESA held the 13th Meeting of the COMESA Committee of Governors of Central Banks in Cairo, Egypt.  During this meeting the committee agreed to create the COMESA Monetary Institute (CMI), which would assist in the eventual creation of a Monetary Cooperation Program. Two years later, on March 7, 2011, COMESA launched the CMI at the Kenya School for Monetary Studies in Nairobi. In order to prepare for the creation of the Monetary Cooperation Program, the main activity of the CMI is to design a monetary policy framework and an exchange rate mechanism that will allow for the establishment of a COMESA Monetary Union set to occur in 2018.

In addition to discussions about a monetary union within COMESA, the community has also been considering a joint effort with the Southern African Development Community and the East African Community. Together, these three regional trade blocs signed a declaration to launch negotiations for a tripartite and eventual monetary union for the entire region on July 12, 2011, in South Africa. 


Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Zambia and COMESA: COMESA & the EU

International Labour Office: Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa

Official COMESA Website

The Secretariat of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

TradeMark Southern Africa: COMESA Monetary Institute Born

TradeMark Southern Africa: Zambia Proposes COMES Monetary Body to Lead to Single Currency