By Elias Muhatia
Every African of goodwill should take this special moment to applaud the Heads of 44 African Countries for signing the Free Trade Agreement in Kigali Rwanda on 21st of March, 2017. The decision will go a long way in defining the progress of Africa as a continent. The agreement has been widely described as a model of the European Union which comprise of 28 countries. With the recent exit of Britain commonly known as the Brexit, the number sums up to 27. It is therefore notable that the African Continental Free Trade Area will be among the Agreements signed by highest number of countries in the world.
The agreement puts Africa on the map of globalisation that seemed to be accelerating faster than the progress of the continent. The many benefits that promise to accompany globalization and the signing of the agreement include increased trade partnerships, technological advancements, innovations and the general linkages that had not sufficiently penetrated the African soil. The Agreement will facilitate easy trade among the African countries and consequently increase the economic prospects of the respective countries. A good economic environment will be a catalyst to the rise of investors both locally and from other continents looking forward to do business in this rich continent. The problem of massive unemployment among the African youth may find an easy solution instead of the complexity always associated with it. Consequently, we may experience an improvement in security because most of the conflicts and insecurity issues in various regions tend to have a common source; the unemployed youth searching for source of livelihood. We should therefore be proud of this big milestone in establishing a better continent.
However, there are some reservations, which as a continent, we need to watch out or rather work harder to solve. Basic economics states that both internal and external factors can contribute to the success or failure of business. Some of the common external factors that affect the performance of any business are the political environment, security, technology and the social issues. I would point out the political environment, security and social factors as the main potential obstacles towards a successful African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement. Some of the countries have and continue to experience long standing internal political conflicts. These conflicts have eventually contributed significantly to high level of insecurity both in the affected countries and the immediate neighbours.
The best examples to illustrate the discussion are the conflicts in Congo, South Sudan and Libya. The political uncertainties on the other hand are widespread in the African countries. Recently, we saw the mass protests in Ethiopia that eventually led to the resignation of her Prime Minister. Another example is the Kenya’s five-year political cycle which always experience uncertainties. The recently concluded general elections saw many businesses close in the urban areas due to the fear of violence. It is still on the African continent where the Heads of States use varied means to stay in power for a lifetime. African countries may not be the exceptions in experiencing constant political uncertainties. However, their approach to the problem is never decisive and cannot guarantee better times even after political agreements.
All these factors imply that the continent has a lot to solve as they progress in establishing and implementing the Free Trade Area Agreement. The agreement may be signed on paper but the political conflicts in different countries may definitely hinder its implementation. No investor will be willing to establish their businesses in an environment where they are not sure if their property will be burned or looted during political protests. No investor will also wish to work in a society where ethnic animosity is rife and it is not known when the next burning of houses will take place. The fact that some heads such as Nigeria and Burundi could not sign the agreement to do more consultations at local level illustrates the fears they have in joining the pact.
The African leaders in all sectors have an obligation to ensure an inclusive and peaceful continent. All the citizens should feel as part of the system for them to make positive contribution. The heads of states in Africa have to take the role of bringing normalcy to South Sudan, Congo, Burundi, Libya and other countries. The assurance we can all give is that we are in full support and we embrace a one free Africa.
Elias Muhatia is an Affiliate of Writers Guild Kenya, a Data Analyst, and Co-founder Aqua and Agriculture Initiative