International trade has been a staple of the world economy for centuries. In today‟s world, as the pressure of globalization takes hold, and as the role of the state recedes while the role of regions increase, the need to maximize the benefits of international trade and investment inflows becomes even more accentuated. Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in particular, has perennially been on the periphery of global trade and investments, contributing no more than 3-4%, notwithstanding SSA having proportionately much higher population and natural resource base. To improve SSA ability to be competitive in international trade as well as to multiply intra-african trade, the continent‟s leaders have long resorted to forming regional economic communities (RECs). But more than five decades of regional economic integration in SSA has produced mostly failed RECs. Yet regional integration is being touted as SSA surest bet for relevance in the global economy. Therein lies the paradox! How can an undertaking that have produced mostly failures be the self-same route out of global economic irrelevance?
In this study, it is shown that the model for regional integration adopted by many SSA RECs, the linear model, also considered the Eurocentric model of regional integration, buttressed by an intergovernmental legal framework, does not suit the peculiar circumstances of the region and is the cause for the near total failure of regional integration on the continent. This research, using the ECOWAS specialized institutions as case studies – the West African Power Pool (WAPP) and the ECOWAS Regional Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERERA) – argues for a paradigm shift in the conceptualisation of regionalism on the continent. It argues for a shift to developmental regionalism, buttressed by strong supranational legal framework. The study shows that the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, now recognises the nexus between the development of trade-related infrastructure and intra-african trade on the one hand, as well as the nexus between the development regionalism and the expansion of SSA trade with the rest of the world, on the other hand. Accordingly, the study concludes that ECOWAS institutionalization of a regional electricity market via the establishment of regional institutions of WAPP and ERERA is the new model for regional integration in SSA.