Africa has always followed the EU as the best model of regional integration in its quest for continental union. However, the global financial crisis of 2008 completely changed the situation.

Europeans’ support for the main drivers of integration such as open borders, a single currency, free movement of people and goods, and refugees drastically diminished. Its support for democracy and human rights remains shaky.

It was thought that the more Europeans shunned integration the more likely Africa’s own quest for integration would come to a halt. Recent developments on the African continent show a completely opposite picture - Africa appears to be integrating at a much faster rate, at a time when Europe disintegrates.

According to the newspaper This Day, Nigeria - Africa’s largest economy - will sign the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

This comes at a time when the AfCFTA has already been ratified by a sufficient number of African countries, allowing it to come into effect last month.

When Nigeria ratifies it, as expected, Africa will negotiate from a position of strength with multiple trading partners around the world.

The current configuration of African states makes it extremely difficult to negotiate individually with the US, China, Japan and the EU. These countries are too fragmented and lack the capacity to negotiate fair trading deals with strong partners.

Although the continent confronts numerous challenges, many countries are registering high economic growth and development. Ethiopia is a classic example. Its capital city, Addis Ababa, is demonstrating positive growth as more entrepreneurial activities take place.

Improvements in the country’s physical infrastructure have boosted regional trade at the Horn of Africa, as neighbouring countries like Eritrea, Kenya, Djibouti, Somalia, Somaliland, and Sudan cement ties with this nation of 110 million people.

Meanwhile, 15 West African states have adopted ECO as the name of the regional common currency to be launched next year.

This strategic move will go a long way towards easing former French colonies’ dependence on France. The adoption of ECO provides encouraging signs in the effort to move towards continental union.

The East Africa Community appears to be the most vibrant regional economic community in Africa. Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyata has announced that people from the region will only be required to carry their national identity cards when travelling to his country and will enjoy all the privileges afforded to Kenyans in seeking employment and accessing government services.

As the world enters an era of trade wars, high tech cold wars and climate change, Africa needs to increase its integration efforts.

A united continent has a better chance of fashioning better deals and relationships with partners.

The continent cannot rely on the EU to stop the tide of African refugees to Europe. The dream of a United States of Africa, supported by all Africans, remains strong.

There are many baby steps being taken towards continental integration. To sustain the current achievements in Africa towards continental union, the AU ought to pay greater attention to building physical regional infrastructure, boosting intra-African trade and improving education and health for its people.

Unlike Europe, Africa cannot afford to shun continental integration, democracy and the process of globalisation.

The AU should continue to seek peace and security for itself. A united Africa could negotiate better with big powers and represent its interests in global multilateral institutions such the G20 and the UN.

* Monyae is the director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.