Free trade bloc, debt, Covid weighs seriousness of our leaders’ wisdom

Friday January 22 2021
Covid-19 funds.

In some African countries, much of their Covid-19 emergency expenditure fell in the usual stinking pit of corruption. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


The decade has started on a promising note for Africa.
Beyond our political and health issues, the more than one billion citizens of Africa living in 54 artificial divisions called states are now legally free to interact economically with one another.

The Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which is supposed to make this possible and came into being on January 1, 2021 is the product of the wisdom of Africa’s leaders who examined the real issues that hold us back in all sectors compared to the rest of the world. So they decided to legally remove the restrictions that have made Africans interact minimally economically on the continent while expensively seeking to interact with other continents.

But now, the wisdom exhibited by our leaders must be complemented and completed with seriousness if it is to be useful. State leaders are not commentators like us on these pages; they are implementers, and powerful ones at that. So for their wisdom to be of use to their citizens, it must be accompanied with seriousness of implementation, or else they will have reduced the African Union (AU) to a mere debating club.

The potential to transform African lives that AfCFTA has created is even frightening. Condescending outsiders and frustrated Africans have been talking of Africa’s lost decades; especially the first decade after independence that was bedevilled by military coup d’états, the second decade that was blotted by tribalistic blood-letting and then the subsequent decades that have been infested with crazy corruption levels.

From the lost decades, AfCFTA is poised to deliver the Glorious Decade of Africa, if the wisdom of our leaders is matched with seriousness.

See how many African states have pathetically delivered themselves into debt slavery by seeking and accepting milliards of loans which are rigged to enslave them, without thinking deeply if the loans are really necessary, or if the projects cannot be funded using the abundant resources the borrowers have.


Some of the loans are not even for projects but for “budget support” when everyone knows that a chunk of the budget of an average African country is stolen by a few powerfully placed persons. Have you for example noticed that some African countries ‘managed’ to grow their foreign debt by 20 percent during the few months of Covid-19 lockdown, and that much of their Covid-19 emergency expenditure just fell in the usual stinking pit of corruption?

But if resources, goods, capital and skills can move freely around the continent, it should take just a decade to see a man-made economic miracle on the continent. For starters, governments would get out of funding the big projects in whose name billions of dollars are stolen across the continent through dubious tenders every year while escalating the debt crisis.

Imagine venture capital pooled for example by a few billionaires from Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya setting up a hydro-electricity plant at Inga near Kinshasa to generate 60,000MW for selling cheaply across the continent as long as the mighty Congo river flows!

Today, most cars imported into Africa have reached the end of their life and are supposed to go to the dismantling yard but instead are brought to Africa where we pay for them instead of being paid to take them off the countries where they are deemed no longer worthy of being on the road. But imagine if a few African countries made the cars using materials available under our soil and sold them across the continent?

Today, many Africans buy, yes, buy garments including undergarments that have been worn and discarded by people on other continents. Imagine if Egyptians with centuries of cotton production under their belt invested in cotton growing and processing in Uganda and northern Tanzania.

Today, several countries have discovered oil and yet the countdown for its use for industrial and automotive energy has started. Imagine a few African petrochemical industries setting up plants that extract the different materials from petroleum instead of only looking at the fuel for burning (and polluting)!

Imagine, imagine, imagine!

Today Africa is about the fastest growing market, for the African is beginning to buy necessities that s/he considered luxuries yesterday. But those products can be made in Africa by Africans for Africans. And this is not xenophobia, but the opposite, for Africa is the only continent whose internal trade constitutes less than 20 percent of the total. The developed continents trade even up to 60 percent internally.

If Africa raised intra continental trade from 18 percent to 50 percent, we wouldn’t be being protectionist or discriminating against anybody.

But our leaders would have to add seriousness to their wisdom first.

Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]