The time after the Cold War witnessed a rise of regionalisms around the globe. Mainstream integration theories fail to explain why regional integration organisations mushroomed in the world's peripheral regions where unfavourable preconditions prevail. In parallel, external actors - notably the EU - engage in support programmes for regionalisms in the South, particularly in Africa. Against this background, several regional integration organisations in Africa show insufficient degrees of operability but seem to be somehow functional in certain respects. This empirical evidence motivates the paper's central questions: Does inter-regional North-South cooperation fuel the functionality of regional integration organisation and strengthen the state capacity of its members? To answer these questions, this paper picks up alternative theoretical explanations that take the influence of external actors into account. Taking reference to isomorphism, regionalisms could be institutional façades that have been established for other, non-functional purposes (e.g. symbolic imitation). This links to the idea of 'regime boosting regionalism' (Söderbaum) that aims to boost state authority and serves patronage functions for governing elites. Taking both into account, this paper presents a theory-driven analysis of regional integration organisations in Africa which show weak institutional performance but exhibit strong relations to external actors. Based on the cases of ECOWAS and IGAD, the paper illustrates that member states gain state capacity and the ability to act by being part of regionalisms that enjoy support from the EU albeit regional institutions have often merely been created for symbolic reasons and in order to attract external funding.
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