• June 3rd, 2020

And The Gambia ratifies the African Continental Free Trade Agreement

Lawrence Kamwi

I did not know that the African Union (AU) has an ambassador to the United States of America (USA). I only found out through a YouTube video shared by a friend on Wednesday.

 Dr Arikana Chihombori-Quao is the Permanent Representative of the AU Representational Mission to the US. Appointed in 2017, Chihombori-Quao is in fact the second person to occupy the position that was first introduced in 2007.
In the video, the AU ambassador summarizes her mission as being “to promote Africa in the Americas, and to galvanize the African Diaspora to participate in the development of Africa.”

   To be human means to belong; the gift of language plays a great role in helping us to achieve this goal.
The AU defines the African Diaspora as “people of African descent living outside Africa, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality, and are willing to contribute to the development of the continent.”

   Chihombori-Quao believes that while “life can only be understood backwards, it must be lived forwards.” She thus, in part, explains Africa’s present state by recalling the rapacious and clearly covetous Berlin Conference of 1884. Although it occurred over one hundred and thirty years ago, the AU ambassador says the Conference’s aims – to defeat and dominate Africa – remain alive.

She exhorts Africa to recognize that “the greatest glory is not in never falling; it is in rising after every fall.”
   Chihombori-Quao sees a rising Africa in the inchoate African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). It is her view that with the advent of the AfCFTA, the bullying of Africa’s “little colonies with small economies” may have its days numbered.

   Interestingly, Joshua Miller on 6 April 2019 wrote: “on Tuesday April 2, the Gambia became the latest African nation to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, meeting the minimum threshold – 22 out of the 55 member-states – for the agreement to go into effect. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa posits that intra-African trade could grow by 52, 3 percent annually once the agreement is implemented.”

However, not many believe that “minimum threshold” is good enough. AfCFTA is a potentially powerful weapon for the continent. Could this explain why it seems to have a faltering start?
   The AU commissioner for trade and industry, Albert Muchanga, says that, “although a minimum of 22 ratifications are required for the agreement to enter into force, advocacy continues to push to have all African Union member-states on-board so that we can have a truly integrated market that completely removes the historical pattern of smallness, isolation, and fragmentation of our economies and the consequential lack of competitiveness.

The stakeholders for the AfCFTA are wide; including women, youth, private sector, civil society, academia, parliamentarians and cooperating partners.”
   Muchanga is also perceptive to “the challenge of bringing about win-win outcomes given that AfCFTA will be a diverse membership of least-developed, landlocked, small-island and lower and upper-middle countries as well as countries in conflict.”

The Quartz Africa newspaper lends its voice to the real worth of AfCFTA by noting that, “with this agreement, African countries could be seen to be moving in a different direction to the United States under Donald Trump or Britain after Brexit…where bilateral trade seems to be their preferred future.”
   Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe’s views are also germane to AfCFTA: “as long as the logic of extraction and predation that characterizes the political economy of primary commodities in Africa has not been broken, and with it the existing modes of exploitation of Africa’s sub-soil, we will not go far…”

Ambassador Chihombori-Quao’s yearning for an Africa without borders, where free and fair trade takes place between communities, is a worthy pursuit.
   But it will not be easy: “the integration agenda in Africa is rendered extremely complex due to the multiplication of processes. Continental integration has been on the agenda ever since African countries gained political independence.
Pursuing regional integration has, however, been challenging on the continent with many initiatives motivated more by political cooperation than by economic interest and trade, let alone sustainable development concerns.”    Could AfCFTA be the continent’s Damascene moment, the all-too important stimulus that awakens Africa to finally overcome the spell cast by the Berlin Conference?

Vinaye Ancharaz and Christophe Bellman somewhat pour cold water on this expectation: “regional integration is not happening in a vacuum. Moving towards deep continental integration would also ultimately require harmonising the different trade commitments made by African countries at the multilateral, regional and bilateral levels.”
   Even the apparently light-natured remark by Niger’s president Mahamadou Issoufou - “the 84, 000 kilometres of borders between our 55 countries are 84, 000 kilometres of obstacles to trade between us” – seems to emphasize the difficult mission ahead. 

Is it possible to generate enough political will and understanding on issues of sovereignty to create the conditions necessary for the success of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement?  

New Era Reporter
2019-04-12 09:36:53 | 1 years ago

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