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There is a gap in the legal scholarship on African regional trade agreements (RTAs) that links law and development to narratives of developmental regionalism. This article undertakes a critical analysis of the ‘developmental regionalism’ paradigm as they have been applied in the study of African RTAs. The article identifies three areas of critical intervention to address the incoherence of developmental regionalism in Africa: limitation in theory; narrow conceptualization; and an insufficient attention to the role of law. First, to address the gap in theorizing the ‘development’ in developmental regionalism, this article makes the case for an explicit linking of Law and Development scholarship and Developmental Regionalism in African regional trade agreements. In so doing, while the article acknowledges the shortcomings of mainstream Law and Development Scholarship, it contends that these critiques do not foreclose the cross-pollination of the fields to offer a theoretical basis for a more rigorous understanding of developmental regionalism in African RTAs. Second, to address the narrow understandings of developmental regionalism, the emphasizes the importance of a robust definition of the concept. It makes the case for rethinking developmental regionalism as an analytical tool that responds to and accommodates the multidimensional character of African RTAs. In turn, the article argues that rethinking developmental regionalism as an analytical tool avoids the need for prescriptive and limiting definitions of the scope of the concept. Thirdly, the article argues for a more rigorous engagement with the role of law in African RTAs. Since these agreements are not strict rules-based regimes; the article pushes back against the failure narratives that are produced by dominant theoretical frameworks that privilege globalized legal thoughts embedded in trade agreements. In conclusion, the article argues that our understanding of African RTAs as ‘flexible legal regimes’ or in anti-formalist terms is deepened by an explicit linkage of the fluid concept of development to the selective implementation of the RTAs based on their priorities.

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African J Intl Economic L