Former president Thabo Mbeki said Africans must collaborate to harness diffused energies. Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND/EPA
OPINION - In the year 2000, marking the close of the 20th century, the World Bank published a report provocatively titled “Can Africa Claim the 21st century?”

Seeking to answer this question, the report read: “The question of whether sub-Saharan Africa can claim the 21st century is complex and provocative Our central message is: Yes, Africa can claim the new century.

But this is a qualified yes, conditional on Africa’s ability - aided by its development partners - to overcome the development traps that kept it confined to a vicious cycle of underdevelopment, conflict, mismanagement, international dependence and untold human suffering for most of the 20th century.”

The report also highlighted challenges facing the continent in repositioning itself within the international community, and repositioning the world with regard to its own continental objectives, particular development agenda.

The main challenges cited were the need for fundamental reforms to change the way in which African economies work.

It meant being open to free-flowing inter-African trade; international trade and capital rather than aid; investment in infrastructure, health, education and skills development; improvements in governance, fiscal management, macroeconomic management and greater accountability; and being reliant on enterprise rather than personalised and patronage-ridden systems, while the aim of government should be private sector growth rather than public sector redistribution.

However, to create distinction and success in the global economic space, Africa was advised to vigorously band together and utilise the leverage she has with her huge resources and other strategic advantages in pursuit of the continent’s strategic interests.

The March 21, 2018 extra-ordinary summit of the AU heads of state and government in Kigali, Rwanda, to launch the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) gave another indication that Africa was serious about being a global economic force in the 21st century.

For Africa to gain from globalisation, she has to rely on her own resources, opportunities, strengths, efforts and people.

African countries need to trade with themselves without trade barriers, tariffs and customs problems that stand in the way of growing their own economies and realising the continent’s agenda.

AfCFTA will:

* Boost intra-African trade.

* Encourage free movement of knowledge, goods, services, capital, labour and people.

* Empower Africa’s masses to be producers, manufacturers, consumers and exporters of commodities.

* Attract the much-needed foreign direct investment.

* Boost global competitiveness of African economies.

* Develop Africa’s domestic markets and protect her markets from unfair foreign trade.

* Consolidate the continent's bargaining power in global markets.

* Encourage large-scale infrastructural projects delivery.

The AfCFTA is an opportunity for Africa to “think local and act global” to create an independent but globally connected continent of 54 sovereign nations all at different stages of development but sharing a lot in common and resilient to any challenges.

“Emboldened by these developments, we made bold to declare the 21st century an African century,” said former President Thabo Mbeki.

“Accordingly, integration is a means through which all Africans should and must collaborate to harness diffused energies and competencies, utilise our vast natural resources and internal economic strengths so as to give our continent a comparative and competitive advantage in the world market.”

The shift in the world’s economic balance, from West to East, has presented significant challenges and opportunities for Africa.

Over the past decade or so, there have been new and serious attempts by Africa’s leaders to fix the problems afflicting the continent.

Most African countries - once riven by civil war, state coups, corruption and human rights abuses - are now enjoying political stability, tiger-like economic growth and sustainable development. Africa’s public debt, once regarded as a “huge rock crushing a starving continent”, is now among the lowest of any continent.

In the 21st century, Africa has made significant impacts in delivering development that responds to the continent’s natural resources, and citizens’ capacity and challenges, as well as the globalised economy.

“More wealth has been created in Africa in the past 10 years than at any point in the continent’s history. Governments have got policy spectacularly right, and created the low-debt, low-inflation, much-improved macro conditions that have enabled growth to take off,” say Charles Robertson and Yvonne Mhango, economists at Renaissance Capital. “The consequences have been a quintupling of exports, record inflows of foreign direct investment and a doubling of per capita GDP.”

Africa is now a major supplier of crucial raw materials and, as importantly, a new 1.2billion-strong market for manufactured goods and services, consumption and supply of youthful labour.

By all accounts, Africa’s economic growth and performance in the past decade has been exceptionally strong, even amid widespread global economic crisis and recession.

The book titled The Fastest Billion published by Renaissance Capital makes a sober case that Africa’s rise is virtually inevitable given the current world trade trends.

“While Africa has got its macro-economic management right, the heady heights envisioned for the continent will depend primarily on whether or not Africa can sustain its growth levels.

“This in turn will depend on several factors - political stability, greater democratisation, good governance, continuing global demand for commodities, greater diversification into manufacturing and services, foreign direct investment, energy generation, deeper provision of banking and financial services, support for small businesses, better quality of education, technology and skills transfer, reduction of corruption and an accelerated creating and improvement of infrastructure.”

As the continent overcomes its internal barriers and integrates itself into a single economic body, Africa has to ensure that AfCFTA becomes a catalyst for quality economic growth.

Quality is defined by the extent to which economic growth is accompanied by improvements in the distribution of wealth, income, resources and opportunities; reduction in poverty; increase in decent jobs creation; provision of basic services; and promotion of environmental sustainability.

Again, the continent should consolidate an environment that promotes democracy, transparency, quality public services, good governance, human rights, the rule of law, and active civil society movement. Political leaders that are found guilty of tyranny, corruption and state looting must not be given “amnesty” in any form, but punished heavily for future reference.

Much has been achieved by Africa in the two decades, but the road ahead is still long.

When applied as a strategy to absorb the pressures of unnecessary continental competition, challenges of globalisation and divisive tactics by global economic powers, AfCFTA seems to hold even more strongly. Africa needs to change that unfortunate famous dictum of the late President Omar Bongo of Gabon regarding the Francafrique relationship that said, “Gabon without France is like a car without a driver. France without Gabon is like a car without petrol.”

Instead, Africa needs a mindset that promotes the 54 African countries as indivisible and interrelated. AfCFTA is a strategic alliance that will change the narrow-minded perceptions that have divided, oppressed and exploited her.

AfCFTA represents an important milestone towards the consolidation of Africa’s economic integration, and ushers in a new era of economic opportunities. Africa is going to grow quickly and consistently. Politicians, economists and historians have coined the phrase “Africa Rising” to describe the rapid economic growth in Africa, and agreed that Africa is the economic champion of the 21st century.

Indeed, as the Colombian Shakira sang the official song Waka Waka at the Fifa Football World Cup in South Africa in 2010, “it’s time for Africa.”

* Khumalo is an independent political analyst

The Mercury