Twenty years ago, I hoped for an Africa that would draw closer and forge forward boldly, despite a bag of mixed fortunes.
Rwanda had just been blighted by genocide and the ubiquitous coup d’état still reared its ugly head in West Africa. Although a tentative calm prevailed in Central Africa, political tensions simmered below the surface.
The Democratic Republic of Congo was in the throes of the First Congo War. The civil war in Somalia was growing in magnitude and intensity.
Ethiopia was beginning an experiment in state-led macroeconomic planning. A democratic South Africa was rising from the ashes of apartheid, a veritable validation of the OAU’s ultimate goal of political liberation for Africa.
An interim period of positive change ensued, a growth fuelled by new media including the internet, greater multiculturalism and a stronger attachment to democratic principles.
In March 2018, 44 African Union (AU) heads of state and government enacted the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement (CFTA) in Kigali, Rwanda at the AU’s 10th Extraordinary Session, under the able leadership of President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda as current AU chairperson and Moussa Faki Mahamat as chairperson of the AU Commission.
Once in force the CFTA will be the largest trade zone in the world, increase intra-African trade by 52% by the year 2022, remove tariffs on 90% of goods, liberalise services and tackle other barriers to intra-African trade, such as long delays at border posts.
The end of colonialism in the early 1960s created 55 African countries that cut arbitrarily across ethnic, cultural and traditional boundaries. They established the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to promote unity and solidarity on one hand yet emphasised territorial sovereignty on the other. This hamstrung the OAU insofar as national affairs were concerned, and helped create regional economic blocs or communities (RECs) in the mid-1970s.
RECs engendered political and economic integration. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the East African Community (EAC) signed agreements for the free movement of goods, services and people. There are now eight AU-recognised RECs and a number of sub-regional bodies that are actively pursuing Africa’s integration agenda.
In 1991 the Abuja Treaty established the African Economic Community (AEC), building on RECs for integration. At the 2001 OAU Summit, African heads of state and government adopted the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as a further vector to accelerate African economic cooperation and integration. The summit recognised the importance of OAU input into REC programme planning and implementation. In 2002, the Constitutive Act of the AU was adopted in Lomé, Togo, formally replacing the OAU.
These milestones show that African economic integration is best pursued on a regional basis.
Rethinking Africa’s priorities is urgently called for. In this regard Agenda 2063, a consolidated strategy for sustained political and economic integration and prosperity, was launched by African heads of state and government at the 50th Anniversary of African Unity in 2013. Agenda 2063’s first Ten-Year Implementation Plan (2013–23) draws heavily on NEPAD’s experiences. Beyond these broad strokes in development priorities and programmes, African development must be translated into concrete action.
While business and consumer confidence have improved, investment, trade and productivity have not. This has a direct impact on both foreign and domestic investments in Africa, particularly in infrastructure. As the world’s second-fastest growing region, Africa holds much promise for those willing to invest time to study our local economies and identify opportunities presented by a booming middle class with an endless appetite for consumables.
Although virtually all countries plan large infrastructure projects and understand the need to industrialise, Africa cannot afford to be an investment risk for infrastructure projects that advance sustainable inclusive development.
To this end, the AU-NEPAD Continental Business Network (CBN) continues to de-risk infrastructure projects in order to attract financing, especially through pension and sovereign wealth funds. In September 2017, NEPAD and the CBN initiated an Africa-led and Africa-owned campaign to increase African asset owners’ contributions to African infrastructure from approximately 1.5% of their assets under management (AUM) to 5% of AUM. By using financial resources available on the continent and strengthening public-private partnerships, infrastructure investments should increase. The CBN has called for a more strategic engagement with domestic institutional investors in support of this campaign.
The CFTA is a monumental step for Africa, another significant milestone in Africa’s integration process. It is relevant to point out that it was signed in Kigali, the capital that experienced complete turmoil some 24 years ago but is now poised to become the futuristic “Wakanda”.