Beavan Dhliwayo Features Writer
Zimbabwe today joins the rest of the continent in commemorating Africa Day, marking 56 years since the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now known as the African Union (AU). This day offers people on the continent an opportunity to pause and reflect on collective actions needed to address challenges facing the continent.
Chief among the challenges is the need to accelerate intra-African trade and boost Africa’s trading position in the global market by strengthening Africa’s common voice and policy space in global trade negotiations.
The OAU was formed in a meeting of over 30 African nations to influence the decolonisation of African countries, including Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The organisation committed itself to support freedom fighters and remove military access to colonial nations, and a charter was established to improve the livelihood of member states across Africa, where Ethiopian head of state Emperor Haile Selassie pledged: “May this convention of union last 1 000 years.”
Colonialism is no longer the common enemy.
Apartheid is dead.
Now the common message should evolve around making Africa competitive on the global market and to sufficiently cater for itself without having to rely on European products.
There should be common purpose in combating health issues, poverty, economic freedom, improving the quality of education, mediating in civil wars, ecological issues, fighting climate change and hunger, among others.
Africa has raw materials and all that is needed is that oneness that was exhibited by Africa’s liberation leaders back in the mid-20th Century.
But this is proving to be difficult this century.
The 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in January 2012 adopted a resolution to establish a Continental Free Trade Area by an indicative date of 2017.
The summit also endorsed the Action Plan on Boosting Intra-Africa Trade (BIAT) which identifies seven priority action clusters: trade policy, trade facilitation, productive capacity, trade-related infrastructure, trade finance, trade information and factor market integration.
Last year, African leaders held an Extraordinary Summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in March 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda, during which the agreement establishing the AfCFTA was presented for signature, along with the Kigali Declaration and the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community relating to the Free Movement of Persons, Right to Residence and Right to Establishment.
In total, 44 out of the 55 AU member states signed the consolidated text of the AfCFTA Agreement, 47 signed the Kigali Declaration and 30 put their signatures on the Protocol on Free Movement.
As at end March 2019, only three countries had yet to sign the consolidated text of the AfCFTA Agreement — Benin, Eritrea and Nigeria.
ISS Today wrote that the ambitious AfCFTA, which technically enters into force on May 30, could be the game changer for Africa’s hitherto lacklustre economy.
“Driven by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the process of reaching this point may well have broken all African records. African Union member states launched negotiations to create this huge market of 1,2 billion people with a GDP of over $3,4 trillion in only March last year.”
Economic analyst Jakkie Cilliers notes that if AfCFTA is implemented to the letter, it will improve Africa’s economic growth and reduce extreme poverty more than any other single factor in the long term.
In his upcoming book on Africa’s future, Cilliers reports on the results of forecasts done using the International Futures software on the likely impacts of 11 major transitions: social grants, rejuvenated education, peace, a fourth wave of democracy, improved health, external support, a demographic dividend (a timely bulge in the size of the working-age population), an upsurge in local manufacturing, an African agricultural revolution, leapfrogging outdated technologies — and the AfCFTA.
Cilliers found that other drivers such as social grants, agriculture, leapfrogging and manufacturing would make the biggest difference in the short term.
But by 2050, the AfCFTA would clearly be exerting the greatest impact on GDP per capita and extreme poverty.
“For example, in lower-middle-income countries it would be boosting annual GDP per capita by over US$1 500, compared to the next biggest factor, technology leapfrogging, which would be adding just over US$900.
“By 2050 also, the AfCFTA would have reduced extreme poverty by over 6 percent, versus the next most effective driver, revolutionised agriculture, which would do so by about 5,5 percent.
Meanwhile, the African leaders should hit the ground running.
From this Africa Day and beyond there should be vigorous talks to conclude critical matters such as tariff schedules, rules of origin and dispute settlements procedures which are still on the table.
Rules of origin stipulate how much of a product must be sourced from within the Free Trade Area for it to qualify for preferential tariff rates.
On the other hand, lessons should be drawn from the Ebola epidemic, to improve the African countries’ public health services, which have suffered the consequences of decades of neglect.
Africa needs to rapidly upgrade those services as well as to improve the capacity of its medical and paramedical workforce.
Of note is that the continent bears one-quarter of the global burden of disease but it has only has two percent of the world’s doctors, according to international public health consultant Cesar Chelala.
To date, progress has been hindered, particularly in rural areas, because the infrastructure and the health services are inadequate, and there is a widespread lack of trained medical personnel.
Africa should decide and address this challenge for the betterment of the continent.
In addition to problems directly related to the health sector, corruption and illicit financial flows are rife and African leaders should collectively strategise to fight these scourges.
Researchers estimate that Africa has lost in excess of $1 trillion in illicit financial flows.
Also the widespread practice of bribing government officials by foreign companies must be curtailed through the enforcement of national and international laws dealing with this vice.
There should be unity of purpose which will strengthen African states.
The weaknesses of a state affect the fight against poverty in a number of ways.
Firstly, fighting poverty requires direct policy interventions, yet poorer African countries are less effective in reaching their poor.
For example, African governments should have the data and administrative know-how necessary to reliably identify their poor.
This means they can’t target resources to them. Anti-poverty programmes in countries such as Malawi, Mali, Niger and Nigeria miss many of their poorest households, and Zimbabwe is not an exception.
According to the World Economic Forum: “The growing evidence on the gaps in state capacity and the importance of effective states for poverty reduction implies that, without significant improvement in governance, Africa may fall further behind in meeting the first sustainable development goal target of ending poverty.
“To accelerate the end of poverty, African states should focus on developing enough capability for designing and delivering poverty reduction strategies. Implementing these reforms is vital. After all, improving the quality of government is not only important to accelerating poverty reduction. It’s also a development goal in itself,” it says.
“This Africa Day should not be just a public holiday, but lessons should be drawn from the late revolutionary icon, Kwame Nkrumah, who once said, ‘Africa must unite or perish!’ Without genuine African unity, our continent will remain at the mercy of imperialist domination and exploitation.”