Tana Forum: Africa’s biggest economies pose threat to its unity

Nigeria’s former minister of education Obiageli Ezekwesili has called out Africa’s biggest economies on their refusal to sign the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement that will pave way for a liberalized market for goods and services across the continent and establish an African economic community.

Highlighting the need for a united African front during a panel session at the 2018 Tana Forum in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, Ezekwesili, who was one of the co-founders of Transparency International said, “How can we have a unified front if the continent’s biggest economies that are meant to be at the forefront of its fight for reformation and development refused to sign the continental free trade area agreement.”

Harmonization and convergence in member States policies would allow for more coherence, harmonization, predictability and coordination of policies and practices at the continental level, Ezekwesili explained.

At the last minute, Nigeria and South Africa pulled a plug on signing the Continental Free Trade Area deal that would drive high income, according to the Rwandan president and president of the African Union, Paul Kagame.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu confirmed that Nigeria will not sign the deal, saying the trade agreement must fairly and equitably represent the interest of Nigeria and her African brothers.

“We are part of this process of opening up Africa for trade,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. All that is holding us back from signing the actual agreement is our own consultation process. We still need to consult at home, to consult in Cabinet, to consult the partners at the National Economic Development and Labor Council  Nedlac, and finally to consult Parliamentarians.”

South Africa’s decision reflects the state of its economy, which is considered strong, stable and competitive. The reluctance to sign the agreement suggests Africa’s most industrialized economy can withstand consequences attached to not being part of the deal. Besides, President Ramaphosa has internal issues to address before he can take on a Pan-African vision such as the CFTA.

Forty-four countries out of the 54 countries in the continent signed the CFTA deal during the 10th ordinary session held in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. Other African countries that did not sign the trade deal are Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Burundi, Eritrea, Benin, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau.

CFTA seeks to expand intra-continental trade and boost Africa’s global competitiveness. The trade deal has given birth to the world’s largest free trade since the 1995 World Trade Organization. The unified trade ensures that all African Union countries involved would share in the welfare gains estimated to be about 2.64 percent of the continental GDP of $65 billion in 2018.

The refusal of Africa’s big economies to sign the deal would have a significant impact on the trade agreement, as both countries make up half of the African continent’s Gross Domestic Product. Nigeria is Africa’s biggest economy, while South Africa is the most industrialized economy in the continent.