Eric Boakye Antwi’s thoughts … The Africa Continental Free Trade Area: A panacea to poverty in Africa?


Recently a Nigerian friend who lives in the country that is also Africa’s biggest economy, after eating the popular Ghanaian snack “nkatie burgher”, posted on facebook, “How many countries can successfully export air to other countries?”

This did not come as a shock as I know that Africans have a cavalier attitude towards goods and services from other African countries. My Nigerian friend sees “nkatie burgher” as just good old air nicely packaged and sold on the market and also exported to other countries. Africans believe there is something inherently wrong with goods and services from other African countries; and they prefer to patronise goods and services from outside the continent because they are perceived to be of a higher quality.

Few Ghanaians have patronised the vehicles made by the astute car maker Apostle Kwadwo Safo Kantanka because they are – you guessed it – made in Ghana. I remember the infamous words of the then vice Chancellor of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology – Professor Kwesi Andam – who called Apostle Safo’s inventions as “nonsense”. This sums up nicely the overarching view of Ghanaians and by extension Africans to goods and services made on the continent; and this prevents intra-trade among African countries.

Indeed, Ghanaians and the rest of the world have now developed a taste for South Korean cars because they are cheaper. And Indian-made tricycles are now the craze in this country. The vehicles of Apostle Safo is comparable in quality to the Indian tricycles that we see on our roads and they would be easy on the pocket of Ghanaians because since they were made in Ghana their prices would not include the import duties that make imported cars so expensive.

The Africa Continental Free Trade Area is such a wise and timely initiative. The idea for this policy was mooted as far back as 1980 in the same country that my facebook friend comes from; and after 40 years – it’s been a long time coming – it is finally coming into fruition.

Nigeria has leveraged its large population to become Africa’s biggest economy. But the West African country has also recently overtaken India as the country with the highest number of poor people in the world. While it is not surprising that the poorest of the world’s continents should also have the highest number of poor people in the world, this situation is a huge setback to the poverty-alleviating ambitions of the continent.

The agreement is aimed at creating a single continental market for goods and services with free movement of goods, people and investments, similar to the European Union. This is expected to eventually unite the continent’s 1.27 billion people and its $3.4 trillion nominal gross domestic product. Experts say it will boost trade in Africa and strengthen the continent’s position in global trade. The UN’s Economic Commission for Africa estimates that the agreement has the potential to boost intra-Africa trade by 53%.

News that is particularly soothing to the ears of Ghanaians is that the Executive Council of the African Union has accepted Ghana’s bid to host the secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area. Leaders at the African Union will also set a date for trading to begin in the African Continental Free Trade Area, a deal that 52 of the continent’s 55 states have signed, although only 25 have ratified it. The African Union says if all countries signed up it would become the largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organization.

The BBC’s Focus on Africa programme reported about three years ago that airline tickets for flights within Africa are more expensive than airline tickets for flights from African countries to the rest of the world for the same mileage.

Very few trade goes on between African countries due to our appetite for out-of-Africa goods and services. Africans who would not patronise taxis now patronise Uber.  Africans that would not patronise hotels and guest houses now patronise Airbnb. African who would otherwise not patronise Jumia patronise Amazon and Alibaba. This attitude must change if this noble initiative is to succeed.

>>>The writer is a keen student of economics. Please reach him at: [email protected].

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