President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during the opening of the 33rd AU summit of heads of state and government at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. Picture: Michael Tewelde/Xinhua
President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during the opening of the 33rd AU summit of heads of state and government at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. Picture: Michael Tewelde/Xinhua

Can the AU harness Africa's potential?

By DAVID MONYAE Time of article published Feb 19, 2020

Share this article:

The AU appointed South African Wamkele Mene last week as the secretary-general of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the world's largest trade area, to establish and run its trade secretariat in Ghana. Despite the wrangles between Pretoria and Lagos over this premier position, the establishment of the AfCFTA secretariat signalled the crossing of the Rubicon.

Mene comes with vast experience and knowledge on trade and trade negotiation. However, to succeed he requires an equally technical team and support from all member states, the business community and civil society. What are some of the major challenges the new secretariat will face? The rivalry between Pretoria and Lagos, the two biggest economies in Africa, might derail the mandate of a laudable initiative.

As the economic giants of Africa, the two countries will have raised differences that, in the face of Pan-African ideals, appear petty.

The AfCFTA comes at a time when multilateralism is losing its appeal. Those who once championed trade as a panacea to stunted growth are now doubting whether this is the case. Increased economic inequality have also been cited as indictments on the argument that trade improves growth. The withdrawal of the UK from the EU is one of the most glaring demonstrations of this anti-multilateral trend. African countries are thus moving against what is currently in vogue. Thus, getting the AfCFTA to work optimally will not be an easy thing to do. It is likely to be sullied by politics as the prelude to Mene’s election hinted.

Another caveat for the AU to keep in mind is that the trade area should not be a haphazard copycat of other institutions such as the EU.

In order to bolster movement of people and goods and to remove trade barriers, security will have to be boosted across borders. Another warning is issued concerning the important issue of funding and, ipso facto, influencing AfCFTA policies.

For it to be really an African-owned initiative, its member countries will have to pool resources together and cater for the attendant financial responsibilities that come with such a mammoth task.

Amid all the formidable challenges that Africa is facing, there is an upside to Africa. The very implementation of the AfCTA is a laudable milestone that will hopefully boost intra-African trade and realise the ideals of Africa's Founding Fathers and aspirations such as the Lagos Plan of Action and Nepad. Intra-African trade still stands at less than 20%.

This could easily be changed by a smooth implementation of the continent trade agreement.

In 2019, some of the fastest-growing economies in the world were from Africa. While some major economies, such as South Africa, are projected to struggle, the African continent should harness the potential of smaller economies that have shown remarkable resilience.

Ghana, where the AfCFTA’s secretariat will be based, is one such economy. By far the biggest asset that Africa has is its people.

As the youngest continent, Africa has more to win to secure a good future for its citizens.

The more than a billion people found on the continent with a combined GDP of $3 trillion (R45trillion) could be a good platform from where to build a stronger continent. The basics, of ensuring security and training for African citizens will have to be utilised for the better. The AU bears the responsibility of ensuring this.

The trade agreement should not only be based on trade because, as argued above, the merits of trade are being contested. More than anything the ease of travel should ensure that skills are shared among Africans.

African countries are at different stages of their economic, skills and industrial growth. These realities have been taken into consideration in order for the trade agreement not to bear lopsided benefits.

* Monyae is the director for the Centre for Africa - China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

*** Receive IOL's top stories via Whatsapp by sending your name to 0745573535.

Share this article:

Related Articles