The African Union (AU) recently held a conference in Nairobi on how to project Africa’s participation at the Expo 2020 Dubai. The extravaganza, slated for October till April next year in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), will bring together governments and global businesses to create a powerful platform for the advancement of international trade and investment.
FREE TRADE AREA
In its recent 50-year blueprint — Agenda 2063 — the AU has set out an ambitious programme of transforming the continent both politically and socioeconomically. The ultimate aim is to make Africa the “powerhouse of the future”. In line with this, the AU steered the establishment of a continent-wide free trade area as a first step to deepen economic integration.
The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) came into force in May, when Saharawi Republic deposited instruments of ratification to become the 22nd signatory. It has created the largest economic cooperation zone, bar the one by the World Trade Organization (WTO).
With Saharawi having been a contested entity for a long time with regard to its statehood and also territory, its inclusion in AfCFTA was a bold statement of AU’s determination to prioritise socio-economic development in Africa.
The same case with the Inga Dam, which Agenda 63 identifies as the flagship project to light up Africa and provide the “white heat” to drive its industrial revolution. The dam’s chequered history, underpinned by the DR Congo’s troubled statehood, may symbolise AU’s quest to go beyond merely idealising Africa as “the powerhouse of the future”.
As a panellist on trade and investment in the Nairobi conference, I made three observations that frame the key concerns of the continent with regard to trade and investment.
First is capacity. Africa will always be at a disadvantage if it continues addressing global trade and investment exchanges in borrowed robes. It should shelve reliance on external experts and conduct an audit to determine its needs. It has a regiment of professionals for it.
Secondly, Africa occupies the entire spectrum of human development in modern history. We are simultaneously in play in the agrarian, industrial, service and technological revolutions. Its strategy should emphasise the pursuit of the entire spectrum rather than be selective and picky. It should market itself as a salad bowl and not a buffet menu.
Thirdly, it is all too easy to surrender the gains to multinational corporations and domestic elites. The post-independence history of Africa is one of betrayal. Agenda 2063 will fail miserably if it does not address the issue of who owns Africa’s wealth from the outset. Even in Europe, whose European Union (EU) we seek to imitate, there is loud disquiet over how benefits of common enterprise are distributed. Britain is learning this lesson.
There are many structural and technical challenges that the AU has to address on trade and investment in line with Agenda 2063 primary among them the definition of the roles of the actors — including member states, regional economic blocs, the AU itself and the private and non-profit sectors.
If it required a trade fair in the sands of Dubai to animate this conversation, then Nairobi counts for time well spent.
Ms Kagure is the founding director of the Agnes Kagure Foundation (AKFO) [email protected]