AfCFTA should revitalise trade on the continent


IN his seminal book, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” Walter Rodney takes the view that Africa was deliberately exploited and underdeveloped by European colonial regimes. Rodney argues that a combination of power politics and economic exploitation of Africa by Europeans led to the poor state of African political and economic development evident to this day. 

Underdevelopment, he argues, does not simply describe the relative economic inequality of different countries or continents; but it also implies a relationship of economic exploitation between two or more countries, the exploiter becoming developed and the exploited becoming underdeveloped.

Today, Africa still suffers from the effects of this underdevelopment, resulting in poverty, hunger and diseases across the continent.  Ironically, everyday, thousands of Africans drown in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach the shores of Europe to eke out a living.

Yet the continent is endowed with vast natural resources, which despite having been exploited by the colonisers, can still sustain its population. How sad!  Today, Africans would rather ship their mineral products in their raw forms to Europe and America, and then re-import them as finished goods at great expense.  How tragic!

Today, we still believe in trading more with the former colonisers and countries far away, than with our own neighbouring countries.  Despite concerted efforts to create free trade areas on the continent, there are still challenges that hamper the free movement of goods, services and people. 

We therefore believe there is a stronger need for Africans to discard the colonial thinking that saw them being divided by the boundaries imposed by the colonisers. 

The first port of call, we believe, is to free our minds from the colonial mentality which regarded everything African as backward.  It boggles the mind that today Africans still shun their own languages, culture and tradition in favour of the western language and traditions.  One needs only to visit West Africa, where the French language has almost killed local languages and traditions, to understand how, as Africans, we are still colonised in the minds. 

This why decolonial scholars keep challenging the injustices and inhumanity brought about by colonisation, modernity, capitalism, and of late neo-liberalism which have relegated the way of life, thinking and being of the African people and their counterparts in the global south. 

Decoloniality, as espoused by such luminaries as Amilcar Cabral, Franz Fanon, and Kwame Nkrumah, among others, is a way of re-discovering the knowledge that sustained our ancestors, which has been consigned into the dustbin of narratives by capitalism, modernity and neoliberalism.  Decolonial approaches or movements concern themselves with beliefs, histories, ideas, identities and social practices as part of different ways of creating knowledge. 

Decoloniality is therefore different from decolonisation which was the dismantling of political domination and oppression under which countries of the global south were occupied by colonial masters. However, decolonisation only ushered in political independence but left intact the Western political theory and political economy which still influences structures of knowledge production.

Black Consciousness Movement leader, Steve Biko, once said, “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed".  We believe it is high time Africans start putting their minds together and work on developing the continent.  

With the attainment of political independence across the continent, economic emancipation must now take the centre stage. That is why we believe the ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a step in the right direction.  

But what is needed now is making sure that this noble idea is implemented to the letter and spirit of its objectives. We believe it is time Africans stop mourning about poverty and underdevelopment, but turn their challenges into opportunities.

Promoting intra-African trade means countries on the continent will be able to develop their economies at a faster pace.  Surely, there is no way we should continue to import products from the West, whose raw materials would have been shipped from Africa.  We are not advocating for a complete blackout of trade with the West, but only calling for increased trade between countries on the continent. We are calling for exploitation of African resources on the continent, thereby creating jobs for the hundreds of millions of African youths, most of whom drown trying to reach Europe to seek opportunities. 

We strongly advocate for African solutions to economic problems on the country. Why, we ask, should travelling across countries on the continent be so difficult that Africans have to get connecting flights in European capitals in order to visit a fellow African country? Why should people in Southern Africa have to first fly to Paris in order to get to West Africa?

We therefore hope that with the ratification of the AfCFTA, there will be increased trade among countries on the continent for the betterment of the African people.  




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