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Ending exploitation of Africa

The signing of the Sh300 trillion ($3 trillion) free-trade zone agreements in Kigali, Rwanda, last month by Africa leaders sends out a signal globally that time has come for the continent to chart its own path.

Successful implementation of the three protocols signed at the summit hallmarks the beginning of the effects that followed the partitioning of Africa at a conference held in Berlin, Germany, in the 1880s.

The result was balkanisation of the continent which enabled different European and later American countries to build their economies at the expense of Africa and its people.

This balkanisation led to exploitation of African resources that is still evident more than half a century later. At first sight, it appears inexplicable that Africa’s powerhouses — Nigeria and South Africa — shied away from signing the agreement, arguing that they had to subject its documentation to the scrutiny of their respective parliaments.

But a closer look reveals that the two countries might have delayed the signing of the agreement as a way of buying time to figure out how they would retain grip of their respective regional trade blocs.

Perhaps, what is baffling is why countries that often complain of exploitation by these regional economic power-houses joined Nigeria and South Africa in asking for more time to consult their people. The hope is that those countries that failed to sign on the dotted line in Kigali will do so at the next summit in Mauritania in July.

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The good news for the countries which signed the agreement, however, is that only 22 countries were needed to put pen to paper to make the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) treaty operational.

Whereas 44 countries signed the treaty, only 27 of them — including Kenya – also ratified the second protocol establishing the African Economic Community relating to the free movement of people, right of residence in the signatory countries and right of establishment.

This means the signatory countries can move forward in developing and implementing strategies that would grow the intra-Africa trade from the paltry 15 per cent.

It would be naïve to expect that these efforts will not face what might appear massive and historical hurdles. But these will be overcome provided the political leaders continue backing these efforts.

Indeed, some of the greatest hurdles are not expected to come from either Europe or America both of which have had their day in the sun as world economic super-powers.

The greatest and most sustained challenges may come from both India and China because they are locked in competition with each other to see which one takes over world economic leadership from the US. It is interesting that both Asian countries have declared their intentions openly. But what none of them has stated openly is that they need African natural and human resources to accomplish their goals.

The chipping away of the global multilateral trade agreements that are building up momentum with US President Donald Trump leading the way means that India and China have to work extra hard to woo Africa to their side.

The rivalry between the economic super-powers gives African countries the opportunity to ensure that they get the best deals for their people.

This is where the AfCFTA treaty comes in. The tragedy still unfolding in Nigerian oil fields and Congolese mines should be avoided at all costs.

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