South Africa is currently chairing of the African Union. And as part of the package, Trade Minister Ebrahim Patel was recently elected chair of the ministerial body tasked with ironing out terms for preferential trade under the African Continent Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The name of the continental outfit that Patel is running is known as the African Ministers of Trade or Amot. With less than two full months to go until AfCFTA is meant to start operations on January 1, Amot is the engine that is expected to drive trading on the continent.
Patel will be relying heavily on his team, which includes three vice chairs, one from each geographical part of the continent. In this case, the three are an Egyptian, a Sierra Leonean and a Kenyan. Not to leave out La Francophonie, the Gabonese trade minister was elected as Amot’s rapporteur.
I’m guessing the six Lusophone countries are covered by the geographical representation. Though if I was Angola or Mozambique, I might have insisted on a vice presidency at the very least.
However, by the time of writing, only 28 AU member states have deposited their instruments of ratification of the agreement. Two additional countries have ratified the treaty, and their formal depositing of the ratification instruments is imminent. But that’s still only 30 out of a possible 54. Why the remaining 24 countries are dragging their feet, is a mystery to me.
Meanwhile, I have a dream of Africa.
In my dream, I believe that if we are going to boost economic growth and create jobs on this continent, then we are going to have to urgently make it easier to do business both in individual countries and across borders.
To do this, we have to get over our fear of other Africans coming into our economies and running things. We must certainly stop calling Africans who move from one African country to another in search of work, love or just a plain and simple change of scenery, unhelpful names, such as economic migrants, aliens and foreigners.
It should not be necessary for a Kenyan to need a visa to travel to Nigeria. Nigerians should not need special work permits to earn a living in South Africa. South Africans should be allowed to set up shop in Somalia, without having to do any more or less than people born in Mogadishu would have to.
However, if countries are taking so long to ratify AfCFTA, we may have to light a few fires under some seats.
My African dream was recently galvanised by a map I saw on Twitter, showing five proposed federations across the continent.
A north Africa federation stretching from Egypt to Western Sahara. A west African grouping from Senegal to Nigeria, including Mali and Niger. A Central African federation with Chad as its northernmost member and including the DRC and Burundi, but not Rwanda.
Rwanda would be part of the East African federation, which would also include the Sudans, Somalia, Ethiopia, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Mauritius. The Southern grouping would be dominated by South Africa and go from Luanda on the Atlantic to Maputo on the Indian Ocean.
What we need to make this dream become a reality, however, is not to have it led by politicians. This is a class of people who can barely see the ends of their noses, let alone imagine the future beyond the trough they have their snouts in.
The drivers of this African unity dream have to be from the private sector and from civil society. Of course, it will need political goodwill, but if they see that’s the way the people and the money are headed, the politicians will have no choice but to hop on board. At least, according to my dream.
Meanwhile, follow me on Twitter @MwangiGithahu