The Deputy Chair Person of the African Union Commission, H.E. Thomas Kwesi Quartey has admitted that the continent of Africa had in years past not been able to integrate effectively particularly in the area of commerce and economics as a result of deliberate partitioning and division of the African Continent by the Europeans who created the Modern African Nations.
He said this is why the continental body of the African Union had struggle to use the over half a century period gone by to disentangle the continent politically and now focusing on trading among itself through the formation of the Continental Free Trade Area.
“All that the African Union has been trying to do and with the arrival of the Continental Free Trade Area was for a significant part disentangle the knots we were tied in, bring ourselves closer together and Trade with each other.”
Speaking to Eye on Port ahead of the celebration of the maiden African Integration Day scheduled for Tuesday, 7th July, 2020, the Deputy Chair of the African Union said the continent had initially focused on political integration of its people but the most opportune time has now presented itself for economic integration.
“It was not until the liberation of South Africa that the whole continent was said to be politically liberated and then the issue now is what to do with this independence through this liberation. Because liberation is nothing if you cannot improve your economic lot.”
He explained that the continent has a lot to celebrate as far as its pursuit for total integration since history clearly shows that International Trade on the continent begun with the capture and sale of human beings.
“Intra Africa Trade is 10%. Whenever, there is an increase in Intra Africa Trade by even 2%, GDP rises by a factor of 10. So it is important for us as Africans to move freely within our continent to trade within ourselves and create a larger economic space, which will attract investment.”
He said the coming into being of the African Continental Free Trade Area is only a first step to many targets set by the continent to liberate itself and develop together.
“And the more the Free Trade Area begins to yield benefits, the more people will warm-up to it. We have to see more and more of the continental interest and less and less the international interest”
H.E. Kwesi Quartey admitted, that one of the major challenges in integrating the continent had been member countries focusing on their national interests far beyond that of the region.
“One also has to be realistic that sovereign nations can only be persuaded and not compelled.”
He said it had been difficult to push or force sovereign nations to comply with protocols or treaties and policies but added that AfCFTA has been received with a renewed enthusiasm by member countries.
“I think that the Continental Free Trade Area was received with a certain amount of Enthusiasm which has been above average.”
He commended efforts by member countries and institutions for commitment demonstrated thus far.
H.E. Kwesi Quartey confirmed to eye on port that the initial plans to commence implementation of AfCFTA by July 1, 2020 will no longer materialise since member countries have spent better part of the year 2020 ensuring the survival of their citizens in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think 1st January or so is the time for it to come to operation. We were supposed to have a summit meeting in May, that has been pushed to September, October or so. Everything has been pushed back a little bit.”
He revealed that though the COVID-19 has greatly affected every facets of the continent, it has also demonstrated coordination among member countries as the continent has exhibited resilience to the amazement of many in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
“It has shown us the extra value of working together rather than working as individual nations.”
On opening up borders and easing up restrictions as a measure of returning to normalcy in the face of the global pandemic, H.E. Kwesi Quarter advised such initiatives must be on country-specific bases depending on their own preparedness.
The AU Deputy Chairperson urged that the continent has no choice but to economically integrate and to do so now.
“I will quote directly from Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. The thesis; Africa must Unite remains unassailable, the logic of history leads us to unity. We have no Choice.”