Africa Rising: Free Trade on the fastest growing continent in the world

IMG_4161Will Africa become a new global economic player and make use of its abundant natural resources? 18 monts ago and way before the outbreak of the Ebola-crisis, the “Economist” called Africa he “hopeful continent”, arguing that African lives had greatly improved over the past decade and the prospect for the next 10 years was even beter.

IMG_4159Olivier Kamitatu, President of the Africa Liberal Network (ALN), Leader of the Alliance pour le Renouveau du Congo (ARC), stressed in Brussels the potential the creation of a Free Trade Area within the African continent could have to fight the continent’s constant struggle with poverty and high unemployment rates. By improving infrastructure, removing tariff barriers and tackling issues like the inefficient energy supply, as well as financial constraints, African countries could boost inter-African trade considerably and foster sustainable economic growth. Olivier Kamitatu emphasized that “the key to economic success in Africa is trade, especially trade within the African continent”. He pointed out that, depending on the region, a good travelling a distance of around 1000km very often takes twice as long as it would in better developed regions. Additionally, bureaucratic barriers imposed on inter-African trade vary strongly from country to country: it requires between 2 to 15 forms to be filled out, depending on the border that is to be crossed and the bribe that is paid.

IMG_4148Sean Woolfrey, Policy Officer for the Food Security, Economic Transformation and Trade at the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) aimed at taking a look at the issue from a European perspective. He remarked that the discourse has shifted in recent years on how the European economy can benefit from an economically strong African continent. The viewpoint has now changed “from tragic to opportunistic”. Even though African governments appear to be taking various measures to create a Free Trade Area, the reality appears to be very different. Sean Woolfrey demanded that “existing free trade agreements should not only exist on paper but be implemented completely”. In his view, in order to achieve this, it is necessary to promote trade within a region, as well as focussing on non-tariff barriers, and thinking ahead, “moving out of a 20th century mind-set”. By first engaging with regional partners, local companies can test their competitiveness on the local level before facing the big, global players.

The panellists stressed the importance of cooperation between individual countries as well as the need for administrational development on a local and public level. In order for the African people to effectively benefit from the natural resources of their respective countries, pressure needs to be put on the governments. The debate on “Africa Rising” was part of an ALN study tour to Brussels, aiming at highlighting challenges and opportunities for Africa and enhancing the relationship between African policy makers and representatives of the EU institutions.


Maike Overmeyer