Another step on the path to the African Century

Caption: Nairobi is a bustling, modern city. Is this Africa’s future?

When I tell people, as I have been doing for some years now, that the 21st century will eventually be known as the African, not the Chinese, century, they usually look at me as if I?ve taken leave of my senses. It?s understandable, perhaps: for most of the past century Africa has been a byword for violence, anarchy and economic and social backwardness, while China is an economic and military behemoth. But China is also about to be hammered by a demographic time-bomb of age and a shortage of women. Africa is slowly, steadily laying in the foundations of stability and economic development. Quote:

It looks likely that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will be implemented in the next few weeks. Only 22 African nations need to ratify the AfCFTA before it can be enacted, and thus far, 19 countries have done so. Last week experts from the United Nations Economic Commision for Africa met to discuss AfCFTA implementation strategies.

The enactment of the AfCFTA is fantastic news for the continent. Securing free trade throughout the continent has the potential to kick-start Africa?s industrial revolution and develop its economy in ways never before seen. End of quote.

Politically, African states are grappling with much the same problems as bedevilled Europe in the last century. It remains to be seen whether the African Union likewise avoids the same issues that have arisen with the European Union. The AU is steadily racking up a political and military win with its AMISOM mission in Somalia, even as it is criticised for failing to act to stop Libyan conflict escalating and creating another failed African state.

It may be that African states have been putting the political cart before the economic horse. Quote:

Rwandan President Paul Kagame proposed the AfCFTA last March. Since then, 52 of the 55 AU members have endorsed the free-trade area. And, once implemented, the agreement will boost intra-African trade by immediately removing all tariffs on 90 per cent of goods. The remaining ten per cent of tariffs on ?sensitive goods? will be phased out later. End of quote.

One of the hoped-for results is that AfCFTA will help move African nations away from ?banana republic? status: exporting raw materials to other countries who turn them into high-value goods. Quote:

Increasing intra-African trade spells especially good news for Africa?when African nations trade with each other, they?re much more likely to trade in higher-value manufactured goods, whereas the exports leaving the continent are typically in commodities?This hurts many African economies because raw materials are especially prone to frequent price fluctuations, so reliance on commodities risks economic volatility and unstable business environments.

?Increasing the trade of higher value manufacturing goods through the AfCFTA will help African nations diversify their exports and build more resilience to price fluctuations. A more stable economy will attract investors and allow for the growth of more small and medium enterprises ? since smaller businesses with less cash flow are the most vulnerable in a fluctuating economy. End of quote.

Africa has the benefit not only of a large English-speaking educated elite ? indispensable in a globalised world ? but of observing the lessons learned the hard way in the West. Quote:

All rich countries have taken the same path to development?By increasing the intra-continental trade of manufactured goods, the AfCFTA really could prove to be revolutionary. Wherever it has been tried, industrialisation has lifted millions out of poverty, extended life expectancies, raised literacy rates, and improved living conditions. End of quote.

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There are still major hurdles, of course. Firstly, Africa must tread warily with China. The global dragon is throwing cash at African states ? but there ain?t no free lunch. China has its agenda. African states must avoid becoming mendicants dependent on China just as they once were on the World Bank and IMF. South Africa needs to step back from the same disastrous path of racial division and basket-case socialism that destroyed Zimbabwe. Africa also needs to stop exporting its human capital: the millions of illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean are not just a burden on Europe, they?re a drain from Africa.

Africa has some beautiful, modern cities: not just Cape Town, but Nairobi, Lagos, Addis Ababa and Tunis. Don?t be surprised to see many more sprouting on the continent when the African Century kicks in.

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