The signing of the Agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area has been greeted with a lot of fanfare and has also been viewed as the possible Eldoradofor intra-African trade. While the text of the Agreement if implemented, would significantly improve Africa’s trading position vis-a-vis the global north and the far east, there are several obstacles that need to be crossed. One obstacle is the ability of Africans to move within the continent freely either for leisure or to engage in commerce. It is this obstacle that the Protocol on Free Movement is created to address.
Gender empowerment and trade liberalisation are mutually exclusive, and to think they form an antipodal nexus defeats the purpose of regional trade as envisaged under WTO altogether. I hope that subsequent discussions around AfCFTA will seek to promote and stimulate gender mainstreaming in the carrying out of trade facilitation amongst African countries. Indeed, infrastructural deficit will hinder the realization of AfCFTA. To obtain the benefits under AfCFTA, African countries must aggressively develop their infrastructural capabilities. Most goods are transported through roads. Good road and rail networks facilitate trade within borders and regional areas.
This low level of priority accorded to the social impact of the AfCTA contradicts the core values and aspirations of the African Union (AU). Most notably Article 3 (g) and 4 (c), (I), (m), and (n) of the AU Constitutive Act which all envisage an African Union that is democratic, inclusive, open to the participation of stakeholders, and sensitive to social concerns in the pursuit of economic development. However, going by what transpired prior to Kigali, it appears that priority was not accorded to these concerns mentioned above. More importantly, the recent hiccups experienced at the Kigali Summit are evidence that dialoguing with a broad range of stakeholders about the impact of trade on social structures is vital to the attainment of legitimate and effective economic agreements in Africa.
The centralisation of democratic practise in the implementation of AfCFTA will require serious commitment on the part of national and regional officials involved in negotiating the process. A key first step in this respect is the express inclusion of respect for democratic values in the Agreement.