History has taught us that politicians and leaders not only love travelling in style and indulging in five-star conferences, but also take pleasure in haphazardly signing agreements and treaties.
But how many of these agreements have actually been implemented, who has been monitoring them and how do we hold leaders accountable for what they sign? Perhaps Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari set a daring, rare example by not signing the recent African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement with 44 other African Union members.
The agreement, with a predicted cumulative GDP of $2.5tn, may look really spectacular on paper but will this flagship project in reality be conclusively implemented, completed and monitored? On 21 March 2018, the CFTA was signed in Rwanda, which was advanced by the AU in accordance with its 2063 Agenda.
It details a long-term development plan to create the largest free trade area in the world after the formation of the World Trade Organisation. It aims to create a single African market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, by liberalising trade and making it easier for African businesses to trade within Africa. The AU predicted that this plan would increase the level of intra-African trade by 60% by 2022. It hopes to gradually eliminate tariff barriers between member States to ease doing cross-border business.
Sounds amazing, right? However, can it and will it be achieved? Surely our leaders, who are approving such developments, need to be accountable to the people of Africa for what they sign. Our leaders need to explain what the strategy entails, provide an outline of the plan, detail how will it be implemented, clarify who will be monitoring deliverables, and illustrate how output will be measured. Africa has been scarred by politicians who love signing agreements in front of cameras and creating huge publicity for a moment, with Africa’s people not seeing the impact on lives in the long term.
Only 10 AU members chose not to sign the CFTA including Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria. President Buhari has been quoted saying that his administration will not be in a hurry to enter into any agreement that would make the country a dumping ground and jeopardize the security of the nation. In my opinion, these are real considerations one should take into account to determine whether it has merit or not. Perhaps Nigeria deserves a round of applause for not wasting anyone’s time.
Time for action
This is Africa. It is still the poorest and most underdeveloped continent in the world, despite technological advances and the massive efforts that have been made over the past two decades to change the status quo. The time for signing agreements is over. It is time for action. So dear leaders, a message for you – “kindly ignore the pens in your blazers, stop signing agreements that we are unable to deliver on, and let’s rather focus on action, and complete the long list of existing plans to develop our continent.”
It’s the only way Africa can continue to rise.
Mimi Kalinda is the co-founder and MD of AfriCommunications Group and a 2017 Tutu Fellow.