Former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo is disturbed by the attitude and behaviour of African heads of States who have displayed lack of solidarity at a critical time while the continent is forging its future.
Obasanjo was reacting to reports of several African leaders sabotaging the signing of the monumental Continental Free Trade Area, which is expected to create a single African market, an endeavor that has failed to be put into fruition for over 4 decades.
“I am surprised that any African leader at this point in time, will be talking about either not understanding this as very important to be here, or to support what you are going to sign tomorrow, I see that as criminal to a fault,” Obasanjo said, attracting laughter at the ongoing Extraordinary Meeting on African Continental Free Trade Area (the AfCFTA) ahead of the summit by Heads of State of the African Union who will sign it on Wednesday March 21.
In his view, Obasanjo said that if President Kagame as the Chair of the African Union concludes his tenure without passing this agreement, Africa would have missed a “wonderful opportunity.” “And God forbid that,” he said.
All the leaders of Africa’s 55 countries were expected to be in Rwanda’s capital Kigali by Tuesday evening or to have made conformations to attend, but only half of them will make it to the historic event to sign on the agreement.
Surprisingly, even the leaders of Uganda and Burundi, Rwanda’s closest neighbors, boycotted the summit.
Beyond the frustration, Obasanjo said that indeed there is lack of political will, but blatantly put it that it is “because some of our political leaders are not knowledgeable.”
“.. let us not deceive ourselves, they just don’t know enough. We need to get them sufficiently educated…I am not talking of education of going to school, I am talking of these matters that are important so that we can get a critical mass of hands, heads and minds of political leadership and private sector leadership to move us forward,” he said.
Obasanjo is convinced that there are number of good things that will go along with this agreement is it works. “Infrastructure is one thing, but we cannot talk of trade without talking about trade, transportation, energy…how do we bring these up so that as we are signing this important agreement tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Obasanjo was speaking shortly after President Kagame’s speech.
Kagame had described, broadly, the benefits of increasing intra-African trade, saying that it does not mean doing less business with the rest of the world. “On the contrary, as we trade more among ourselves, African firms will become bigger, more specialised, and more competitive internationally.”
Kagame was clarifying contradictions peddled around about the intention of the agreement.
“Let’s also be realistic. We cannot take the Continental Free Trade Area for granted,” Kagame said, adding that, “After it is signed, there will still be challenges. Any concerns or technical issues that remain should be addressed fairly, but also expeditiously. Work on some additional protocols and annexes will also continue.
Once again, he said, “the full engagement of the private sector will be absolutely essential.”
He also outline three of the tasks. One, raising ambitions even higher. Success on free trade shows that Africa is capable of achieving much more together. “This is not the time to sit back and relax,” he said.
Second, the agreement needs to be ratified by Member States. “The speed at which this occurs depends on us. Let’s do our part to communicate the rationale and the urgency of the Continental Free Trade Area to our parliamentarians, civil society organisations, and chambers of commerce, as well as to the media.”
Third, implementation will mean reform of procedures and rules at the national level. “This won’t happen overnight. It will be a process requiring dialogue and flexibility.”
But getting those details right is central. Doing so anchors the case for the next stages of African integration in concrete outcomes that citizens feel in their daily lives.
In summary, he said; “Raise our ambition. Ratify. Reform.”