The African Continental Free Trade Area (AFTA) process seems to be stalling. There is concern that some critical timelines will not be met.
Africa Industry Opinions

The African Continental Free Trade Area’s Momentum Needs Refueling

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AFTA) process seems to be stalling. There is concern that some critical timelines will not be met.

Funds for the long meetings to undertake the ongoing negotiations are running out. Ratifications have dried up, though the number quickly grew to seven since the launch of the Agreement in March this year, mainly from countries that have championed the process or vying to host the new Secretariat for AFTA. The ambivalence of Nigeria in not signing the Agreement has not helped.

The product-specific approach being taken in negotiating the rules of origin, and uncertainty over trade liberalisation of the most critical sectors for intra-Africa trade making up 10 per cent of total products, is proving to be lengthy and tedious.

These processes need to build on what already exists in the regional economic communities and the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite.

It is important that any adverse developments be spotted early and decisively addressed to maintain the high momentum around the AFTA process.

Sustaining high-level political engagement, and participating in regional events such as the Intra-Africa Trade Fair planned for 11-17 December in Egypt, provide opportunities for fuelling the momentum.

However, there are structural reasons why the current high momentum for regional integration in Africa should be irreversible.

These reasons are rooted in the pan Africanism that provided the organising logic and motivation for the political freedom and economic transformation of Africa.

The zest for freedom, self-betterment and full actualisation or fulfilment is inherent though in random and varying degrees of ambition.

In this regard, Africa’s milestones have included decolonisation achieved in 1990 with the independence of Namibia, establishment of regional and continental institutions such as the Organisation for African Unity and the African Union, formulation of long-term visions and programs for regional economic integration such as the Abuja Treaty to establish the African Economic Community, Agenda 2063, and AFTA.

There are also theoretical reasons why the AFTA momentum should be irreversible.

The past lies irreversibly behind us. This is the irreversibility of time. But the future opens up immense opportunities.

While we ought to know the past, in explaining how we came to be where we are, we cannot afford to be shackled by it. There would be no progress.

We must be cognisant of the immense possibilities that lie ahead, to continue our human and individual progress.

Our ingenuity enables us to innovate and put into play the kind of future we seek. This explains how Africa has seized opportunities for re-engineering its future over the decades.

What we do now is shaped by our vision of the future. But the future is not pre-determined, we build it. The future we want will not happen by itself.

It is upon us to create it. We create it through leadership, to articulate that vision and mobilise the people and resources to the causes.

We create it through our daily lifestyles, that grow us into the future people we seek to be. We create it through our values, ethos and systems that create the social-political and technological fabric that underpins the future we want.

This is how to achieve Agenda 2063 and “The Africa We Want” – the integrated, free and prosperous Africa. This Africa is achievable much sooner than 2063.

Order emerges out of chaos. And systems pushed into disequilibrium, reach dissipative states where they innovate themselves out of it through a self-organization process that might appear quite random but is driven by leaders and solutions that emerge.

Political history shows this over the millennia. The post-World War II order has been cited in illustration; how humankind crafted a new world order after the mayhem of the war, to establish the United Nations together with its various agencies and international legal order, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade which became the World Trade Organisation much later in 1995.

Africa has over the years created political and legal orders to address states of chaos and disequilibrium. The OAU in 1963 put in place a new African order to replace colonialism.

The Treaty establishing the African Economic Community in 1994 put in place an order for continental integration, followed by the African Union in 2002.

Social-political processes are akin to the natural processes of simple cells growing into increasing complexity. Institutions as complex adaptive systems are meant to respond to increasing complexity of existential challenges that confront humankind.

Africa has been through all this, over and over again. “They ploughed our backs” over the years, but here we are.

This resilience and adaptability is something of an African virtue. The unforgettable lesson here, for inspiration, is that Africa can design and achieve unthinkable milestones, where there is leadership, clarity, determination and mobilisation of key stakeholders.

Africa is not a basket case. Africa is a growth pole of the world. It has been over the centuries through human labour, raw materials and natural resources.

Now it is, through its young population, at a mean age of 19.4 years. It is, through its strategic and rare minerals.

It is, through its highest returns on investment, and 60 per cent of the global arable land. It is, through its potential for clean solar and hydro energy. It is, through its frontline trade and investment opportunities.

At its current growth trajectory, Africa will have a combined GDP of US $29 Trillion by 2050. Already, its business and consumer spending is US $ 4 Trillion annually and projected to reach US $5.6 Trillion annually by 2025.

The world has over the years become a better place than in the past, like Hans Rosling’s book entitled Factfulness demonstrates. And so, has Africa.

For Africa though, this has had to be fought for and taken back; it’s written in blood, in decolonisation battles; and it’s written in alternative development strategies to the Washington consensus.

It’s written in the philosophy of Pan-Africanism, that has mobilised Africa over the decades to political freedom and economic transformation.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AFTA) is the largest economic integration project in human history and a proud milestone for panafricanism.

More than ever, the selfless spirit of Pan-Africanism is required for achieving “The Africa We Want”. Let Africa be able to say once again with Kwame Nkrumah, that no one is free until all of us are free, politically and economically; that we love Africa not because we were born in Africa but because Africa was born in us. At everyone’s level no matter how high or low, let’s see Africa as one and let’s unite Africa, beginning with our villages, counties and countries.

However, this Africa We Want requires “The Africans We Want”, to systematically and rigorously build it.

The Africans We Want are transformators. They achieve transformation of their countries, counties, villages, schools, hospitals and community centres.

They do not destroy their countries, counties, villages, schools, hospitals and community centres. They do not plunder public resources; they are not corrupt.

They do not mortgage the future of their countries through unsustainable debts. They do not destroy the environment.

BY FRANCIS MANGENI