(Addis Ababa) The African Development Week 2016 on Saturday took a bold step towards data-driven integration by launching the African Regional Integration Index.  The initiative is spearheaded by the Economic Commission for Africa and is aimed at ensuring that regional integration policy is targeted and informed by real gaps unique to each region. Deputy Executive Secretary and Chief Economist at the Commission, Abdalla Hamdok, explained that the purpose of the tool is to source and present reliable and credible data that allows for an assessment of the progress in regional integration across five pillars within the member countries of the commission.

According to Hamdok, “Africa’s integration journey towards a more connected, competitive and business-friendly continent is underway and its roadmap is, in some areas, under construction. Africa’s Regional Integration Index is an action tool measuring the progress of an Africa on the move.”

The five pillars of the index measure integration in trade, in regional infrastructure, productive integration, the free movement of people, and the extent of financial and macroeconomic integration. 

The index already shows that some regional economic communities are outperforming others. The East African Community has emerged as a front runner in overall performance across the five pillars. However, the tool has also been able to highlight that the EAC continues to struggle with and lag behind in financial and macroeconomic integration.

Not to be outdone, SADC and ECOWAS topped the tables in the measurement of regional infrastructure, the free movement of people, and financial and macroeconomic integration.

The index also dispels some commonly held myths about regional integration. For example, the data shows that a country’s economic weight does not necessarily mean that that country has a higher regional integration score. Interestingly, the horn of Africa emerged as having a formidable level of infrastructure integration in comparison to other regions.

Ultimately, the index has the potential to be an invaluable dashboard that can guide policymakers on where they should focus their integration efforts.

*Nozipho Mbanjwa is a CNBC Africa presenter and moderator, she  is currently attending The African Development Week 2016 in Ethiopia