The African Continental Free Trade Area: Rendering a skeptical voice

By Jethron Ayumbah—

Kwame Nkrumah is one of Africa’s brightest sons and a man to whom the continent meant so much to in terms of its unity. His vision was beyond Ghana and it is his love for Africa and Africans that saw him push the African agenda. His passion for Africa and its grand vision was unquestionable. African unity meant everything for Nkrumah. ‘Divided we are weak; united, Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world. I believe strongly and sincerely that with the deep-rooted wisdom and dignity, the innate respect for human lives, the intense humanity that is our heritage, the African race, united under one federal government, will emerge not as just another world bloc to flaunt its wealth and strength, but as a Great Power whose greatness is indestructible because it is built not on fear, envy and suspicion, nor won at the expense of others, but founded on hope, trust, friendship and directed to the good of all mankind.’ He unequivocally stated.

In the above paragraph, Africa’s quest for unity along what seems to have been Nkrumah’s and the late Muammar Gaddafi “United States of Africa” cannot be any much emphasized. It is on this backdrop that I receive the ambitious trade agreement signed this week by majority African Heads of States. On Wednesday 21st March 2018, forty African countries entered into a trade pact that would see them establish one of the largest economic blocks in the world. The free trade area agreement if it lives to the expectation will maybe mark the first step towards the envisioned ‘USA’. The African Continental Free Trade Area, as it is officially known, aims at making it easy for movement of goods between and amongst member states for an African initiated growth, perhaps away from the global market that has perpetually taken away from Africa more than it gives her back. What remains now is for the member countries to ratify the agreement through their own national assemblies and then it becomes operational.

Much as the current worry and impediment facing the actualization of the pact is the hold up by the two giant economies in Africa that is Nigeria and South Africa, other things should worry us too. Africa has not lacked in brilliant ideas and creative citizens. Africa’s problem has been and continues to be that of shooting herself in the foot through personality differences, corruption, maladministration and misrule. Africa as I always say keeps behaving like a night hunter whose main interest is to shoot down the only available stars on her sky through abuse of power and poor administrative decisions. If Africa does not concern herself with streamlining the myriad problems of governance, foreign debt, colonial legacies of being conjoined to the West and America’s liberal economic ideals, then it does matter how beautiful a pact is crafted and signatures appended to. It will continue as a continent to be castigated as ‘shithole’ and a museum where the ‘civilized’ come to witness how far in evolution they are located. How do we realize economic growth and free trade when DRC is in a hemorrhage, being bloodied for her wealth and her human resource wiped out by the bloody political turmoil; How do we succeed with Somalia at pains and Uganda trooped into an autocratic ‘monarchy’? Cameroun continues to maim her own for fighting to speak a foreign language (English speaking Cameroun). Boko Haram continues to cause havoc in same hesitant Nigeria, Chad and the entire region capturing small girls from the comfort of schools at will and trading with them. How do you succeed at realizing enhanced trade and growth with numerous strikes by public servants who are milked dry through poor remuneration and poor working conditions. Education anchors and has a ripple effect to all other social and economic sectors of growth yet lecturers in Kenya are ever on strike pleading with an indifferent government for improved terms. And what of the 21st century ‘slave markets’ and slavery in Libya. Wake up Africa.

This brings me to an interesting conversation I had with an old man of Ghanian origin who seemed highly knowledgeable and one I see walking around here in the streets of Darmstadt Germany. With his knowledge of civil engineering and infrastructure systems, one of the questions he posed was how Africa hopes to succeed in the continental transnational trade with different gauges of the railway. It might sound simple but this is the core of Africa’s inter and intra State trade. The continent despite claims of political independence continues itself to be philandered by different agencies with no standard gauge railway connecting countries and the road network remains inadequate and weak for high volume trade amongst and between nations. It is one thing to dream but it is another thing to dream realistic dreams. By this, I do not want to sound pessimistic at the first sound of the gun but I use this salvo to re-question our commitment to the goals of such an extensive trade pact.

Africa has had several regional trade blocks but their success in being the centrepiece for Africa’s development has been minimal if not negligible or non-existent. The East African Community is a case example of so many good words on paper but one huge pipe dream. How are we going to succeed when Tanzania confiscates cattle from Maasai herders from Kenya and auctions them away? How committed are we to such huge trade agreements when Tanzania repeatedly burns chicks imported from Kenya? One would say JPM and UMK as acronyms for John Pombe Magufuli and Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta respectively have buried the hatchet but a lot needs to be done. Africa needs to get it right otherwise the sleeping lion it has been said to be risks becoming a dead lion.

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