Africans—or more specifically the politically conscious pan-Africanists and some politicians—will remember to celebrate Africa Day today.
Laudatory speeches will be made about Africa. Yes, “Mother Africa” she will be called without irony. Africa will be extolled as the origin of humans. Speakers will marvel at its (unexploited) wealth.
They will speculate on what the activation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) would do to the peoples of Africa. Optimism shall be reported and celebrated at talk shops.
Yet millions of Africans in the 54 countries that are signatories to the agreement can’t wait anymore for politicians, bureaucrats and businesspeople to see the obvious. Ordinary people across the many artificial borders have always found ways to go across.
They have always traded. Whilst administrators insist on ‘official identification documents’ such as passports, identity cards or birth certificates to register residents and non-residents, individuals know how to go around such restrictions and demands. This is how Africans have lived for millennia, having relatives in the ‘neighbouring’ community. Colonial borders won’t deter them from relating.
But the politicians and state officials dither over what is clearly a very beneficial policy. African states know AfCFTA would create a massive market of more than a billion people, have a gross domestic product of more than $3 trillion, create millions of jobs, lift millions more out of poverty, accelerate industrialisation, lead to inclusivity in the economy for women and youth and guarantee sustainable development.
There is more than enough evidence to demonstrate that the benefits of AfCFTA trump the current economic model preferred by African governments, of small regional trade unions.
How will the African Union justify the theme for this year’s Africa Day, “Acceleration of AfCFTA Implementation”, when it couldn’t get African heads of state at its annual summit to commit themselves to open their countries’ skies, land borders, lakes and rivers to trade?
But then again, how would African presidents—eager to do business, unwilling to allow their citizens to cross state borders lest they become rebels, not ready to retire, whose countries are unprepared for the realities of the economics of scale—ever agree to a continental free trade area?
How will the AU free up and integrate the continent for trade when wars and political instability ravage Africa? Libya is a wound that refuses to heal. DR Congo remains in the grip of economic exploiters. Sudan has just exploded into an internecine conflict that clearly has external determiners.
South Sudan continues to chase internal peace. Ethiopia is waking up from a very bad dream. Down south, the land of Madiba hardly inspires any regional rainbow dream. Nobody can say with certainty if Nigeria is still the economic tiger it was meant to be. The rest of the continent is a mishmash of aborted, murdered or lame political and economic dreams.
However, the optimists dream, believing that an African economic revolution is just around the corner. Probably if ordinary Africans and businesspeople decided to short-circuit their governments or find a way to make the politicians and governments pull down the barriers to the free movement of people, goods and services across the continent.
Dr Odhiambo, PhD, teaches literature at the University of Nairobi. [email protected].