David Monyae is the director of Africa-China studies at the University of Johannesburg.
As the post World War II institutions of global governance tear apart at the weight of anti-globalisation forces across the world, Africa has realised the long-held aspiration of continental integration.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is now in force after May 30, and the unified market is to be officially launched on July 7. But Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy, remains outside this continental market arrangement that seeks to boost regional trade by reducing tariffs and allowing business to freely operate across the continent.

As a country that was an influential player in ending colonialism, apartheid and championing African unity, Nigeria’s stance on the AfCFTA is curious, and could be indicative of a disturbing insular brand of politics that has led, among others, to Brexit.

Since the inception of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now AU, in 1963, African leaders hoped for a time when the continent would enjoy more intra-African ties, thereby severing the divide and conquer stratagem that was very useful for the success and longevity of colonial conquest.

Twenty-four parliaments of the 52 countries that had signed the agreement have finally ratified it, paving the way for the launch of the unified market. This is a remarkable achievement as it takes place in an era in which regional integration schemes such as the EU are disintegrating.

The launch of AfCFTA will undeniably take place under an uncertain global climate defined by a trade war between the world’s biggest economies: the US and China.

The AfCFTA offers a single market for goods and services to 1.2 billion Africans with an aggregate GDP of over $2trillion (R29.2trillion).

UNCTAD, a trade organ of the UN, forecasts that the AfCFTA “could bring $3.6billion in welfare gains to the continent through a boost in production and cheaper goods”.

Given the fact that in the past three decades Africans had endless hurdles in their attempts to rival trade volumes with non-African partners by deepening intra-African trade, the AfCFTA is an opportune initiative in not only bolstering the continent’s prospects for trade success, but also for renegotiating Africa’s position in structures such as African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). AU members have to be candid about their strengths.

More industrialised countries could play a pivotal role in beneficiation of raw materials. For an inexcusable length of time, the continent has remained an exporter of raw materials that, with increased industrial capacity and activity, could be refined and transformed into high-end products.

The AfCFTA is to the AU what the Lagos Plan of Action, crafted in 1980, was to the OAU.

The Lagos Plan of Action, despite its ideals was hampered by human-made and natural conditions, ranging from trade barriers to droughts that undermined Africa’s food production.

More than just being a tool for economic ambitions, the AfCFTA comes with the promise of improving the movements of African citizens across the continent and boosting cultural exchanges. Thus, while the statistics in terms of trade forecasts after implementations are impressive, they will ring largely hollow if the benefits do not trickle down to ordinary citizens, and if Africans will still remain ignorant of, and strangers to one another.

Even though a people-centred approach to implementing the AfCFTA would be the most ideal, Africa needs real champions to lead the cause of the continent. The first generation of African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and Nnamdi Azikiwe were clear in their responsibility to end colonialism and secure African sovereignty. In their flawed way, they achieved some of their aspirations.

* Monyae is the director of Africa-China studies at the University of Johannesburg.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.