Regarded as one of the pillars of the African Economic Community, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa was established as an organization of independent sovereign states that have agreed to cooperate in developing their resources to ensure the better future of their people. It replaced the Preferential Trade Area that had existed since 1981.
Among COMESA member countries are Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Swaziland, Seycelles, Namibia, Rwanda, Mauritius, Madagascar, Malawi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Burundi and Angola.
The main objective of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa is to form a significant economic and trading unit capable of eliminating barriers which are faced by individual states.
During the period of 1995-1998 the organization has succeeded in introduction a common external tariff structure in dealing with third party trade. In addition, it has a number of other objectives that are much related to its priorities of security and peace promotion. Thus, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa recognizes that security, peace and stability are major factors in providing trade, investment, development and regional economic integration.
Since the establishment of the organization, its member states have adhered to the following principles:
- To maintain regional peace through strengthening and promotion of good neighborliness;
- To settle peacefully disputes among COMESA member states and actively co-operate with neighboring countries;
- To promote of a democratic system of governance in all member states; to recognize and observe the rule of law;
- To recognize, promote and protect human and people's rights according to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights;
- To promote inter-state co-operation, program integration and harmonization of policies among member states;
- To achieve collective self-reliance and solidarity, inter-dependence and equality among member states.
There are four bodies of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa that are empowered to take decisions on behalf of the organization, namely the Authority of Heads of State and Government, the Committee of Governors of Central Banks, the Council of Ministers and the Court of Justice. The Technical Committee, the Intergovernmental Committee, the Consultative Committee and the Secretariat make recommendations to the Councils of Ministers - the second most important Policy Organ of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa after the Authority of Heads of State and Government.
The Council is composed of Ministers of the member states and bears responsibility for proper functioning of the organization in compliance with the provisions of the Treaty. This body takes policy decisions on the activities and programs of the organization, including reviewing and monitoring of its administrative and financial management.
The judicial organ of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa is the COMESA Court of Justice, which has jurisdiction upon matters that can be referred to the COMESA Treaty.