AfCFTA already exists, just look at rail, air connections

Monday April 02 2018
By Charles Onyango-Obbo

We will stay with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) signed in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 21.

Now days later, AfCFTA feels like D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, transported to modern-day African politics.

For the less classically inclined, it’s the story of a young nobleman’s wife Lady Chatterley, who has a fling with the gamekeeper (East Africans might say gardener).

Part of her frustration arises from the fact that her upper class husband, Sir Clifford Chatterley, an otherwise handsome, well-built man, has been sidelined by a war injury that left him paralysed from the waist down.

Sir Chatterley is much like the African Union — high sounding, but does not perform. The rest of Africa is Lady Chatterley.

So which “Gamekeeper” has this “African Lady Chatterley” been sleeping with, as Sir Chatterley (African Union) deals with his complex range of issues?
Many, actually. The first is China.


Though it was an embarrassing gift for proud Africans, China’s donation of a new AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, represented a radical departure in the organising principle around which development partners have dealt with Africa. No other had approached it as ONE.

Transnational infrastructure

AfCFTA also happened because of the mental map created by transnational infrastructure in Africa.

Barring the early 20th century Kenya-Uganda Railway, the main transnational infrastructure built in Africa after Independence was the 1,860km-long Tanzania-Zambia Railway (Tazara), funded and built by China, and completed in 1976.

To name one of several, this philosophy was apparent in the recently opened 759km Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway, another Chinese-funded project.

Effectively, these projects are joining countries at the hip with metal.

Ethiopian Airlines recently bought stake in Zambia Airways, but perhaps significantly, will soon start flying domestically within Mozambique. Air Malawi too got rights to do Mozambique domestic flights.

Kenya Airways has announced a new assault on Africa, and RwandAir is pulling its hair out over its failure to get domestic routes in regional markets it has set its sights on.

So, there, the airlines are the other party Lady Chatterley has been consorting with, and a key constituency fuelling a common African market.

Ordinary African folk too continue to drive this integration.

Contrary to what the headlines say, the overwhelming majority of Africans (up to 75 per cent) migrate within Africa, and majority of African students also don’t travel to Europe or North America to study. They do so within Africa, with South Africa being the top destination.

Kenyan, South African and now Moroccan companies, have also fuelled the AfCFTA engine. More recently, Morocco’s Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP), the world’s largest phosphate exporter, is developing a $3.7 billion fertilisers plant in Ethiopia.

We are witnessing a new wave of initiatives to expand markets, as the “Africa Rising” cream falls to the bottom of the cup.

South African telco Orange SA, announced it would in the next five years distribute 400,000-500,000 solar kits in four African countries — Madagascar, Senegal, Ivory Coast and DR Congo — to consumers with no access to electricity grid.

This would unlock new consumers, but still only a drop given projections that more than 500 million Africans still will not have electricity by 2040.

If you thought a common African market was just another tribal dance, think again.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of and explainer site [email protected]