Believe it or not, it would be phenomenal – the removal of barriers for continental integration and intra-Africa trade to thrive is the next big thing about to happen on the globe and it promises to usher in greater prosperity and exploration of new frontiers for African citizens and businesses.
There is a popular saying that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step and that first step is certainly a defining moment. For Africans that first major step is going to be the launch of an AU passport at the forthcoming 27th Summit of the African Union to be held in Kigali, Rwanda, from the 10th to the 18th of July 2016, which will guarantee travels within Africa without visas.
Pursuing and attaining an AU agenda in practical terms such as having a common passport is nothing short of a move in the right direction; Coming on the heels of Brexit from EU which has been characterised by regret, uncertainty and capital losses including the risk of now losing their EU passports which has allowed them to sell their services to the union.
Nigeria’s one-time ambassador to Congo, Amb Greg Ozumba Mbadiwe, speaking to Footprint to Africa from London, said the whole world is tying into one bloc and it is good that Africa does the same thing too.
“Especially after what the UK has witnessed because it chose to opt out of the EU, it is obvious that coming together promotes competitiveness and increases access to markets,” he said.
Up till now regulatory barriers still raise transaction costs and limit the movement of goods, services, people and capital across borders throughout Africa.
Experts argue that barriers to trade continue to limit growth throughout all African regional groupings and have consistently called for the scrapping of unnecessary costs on exporters, which in turn raise prices for consumers; as it undermines the predictability of the trade regime, as well as reduces investment in the region.
According to Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the AU Commission (AUC), the AUC has drawn up a four-year Strategic plan that constitutes the framework outlining the overall priorities of the Commission and topmost on the agenda is continental integration.
“The continental integration process is being fast-tracked with the aim of putting in place a Continental Free Trade Area by 2017, but we realize the need to boost intra-African trade and turn it into opportunities…” she said.
Meanwhile some of the barriers that have stalled regional integration in the past have become distant echoes of history, as Africa as a continent continues to lure investors being a preferred destination of capital investments.
New democratic structures of government and the rule of law has overthrown military and despotic dictatorship regimes, as broad gains are been counted on the democratic front, with an increasing number of elections that are free and fair.
African nations are no longer at war with each other, however terrorism has not quite been effectively defeated and tensions over borders are still being witnessed in countries where such terror attacks occur.
A new dawn
Indeed the continent as a whole has become more proactive in building a sustainable structure for development to thrive. A lot of initiative and funding has been committed to providing basic education and empowering citizens for economic participation.
According to AUC chairperson: “The continent has registered significant advances in primary education, as well as with respect to women’s political representation. The challenge that remains is to achieve economic empowerment and boost tertiary education, science, technology and innovation.”
She stressed that capacities were needed for Africa to turn its challenges into opportunities for broad economic development through implementation of policies on product and export diversification; natural resource management; investments in human capital development, science, technology and innovation; and infrastructure development.
CEO of Multi-Trex Integrated Foods Plc, and President of Cocoa Processors Association of Nigeria, Mr. Dimeji Owofemi told Footprint to Africa that striking a balance was critical to the attainment of an Africa without barriers, as it would entail some countries benefiting at the expense of others.
“African countries are differently structured economically and as such some countries are more attractive to live in and this could pose an immigration problem for them and their resources, which could become strained in trying to sustain the new population,” he said.
He pointed out that some others will leave their countries with the intention of going to cause havoc in other countries, so adequate structures must be put in place to check the rules, the yardsticks and design a checklist to prevent chaos.
“Incidentally it is at a time when Europe is about breaking up that Africa is deciding to come together. As they are dismantling, we are assembling,” he said reflectively.
He noted that the breakup of Russia started its trouble, adding that American states could easily be nations on their own, “but the only reason why they are strong is because they are together, even China is a configuration of sorts.”
Dimeji Owofemi noted that one of the good things about a single passport is that it will promote intra Africa travels which could serve as a stimulant for enhancing transport infrastructure development.
“I see this as a beginning and if they can also bring a single currency it will be good; unity brings connections, wider network and strength and I think one of the reasons why UK exited EU was because they did not join fully, by still operating their own Pounds Sterling while the rest of Europe were using Euro.”
It would be interesting to see how the structure of unity and integration will be built by today’s African leaders, to enable the strong bear up the weak without losing their individual strengths and prominent attributes – as the continent advances towards a greatness that had only been imagined by past visionary leaders.
Source: Footprint to Africa