44 African nations signed the Continental Free Trade Agreement last week in Rwanda.
The treaty must now be ratified at the national level by either 15 or 22 of its members, a number which is still being decided upon, in order to enter into effect, which the African Union expects to be officially promulgated within the next six months. The CFTA is widely seen as being a precursor to an African version of the EU, but the regional East African Community bloc’s preexisting hesitancy in enhancing its members’ comprehensive integration into a federation foreshadows some of the continent’s future problems in this respect, though amplified to the highest degree given the much larger number of countries involved.
Although designed to deepen intra-African trade, the CFTA might unintentionally exacerbate economic disparities between its members, which could potentially even lead to intra-continental neo-colonial relations between some of them. For example, more developed economies could easily flood their lesser developed neighbors with cheap manufactured goods, and since the agreement has no vision for improving capacity-building within states, it’s entirely foreseeable that the weaker ones might end up surrendering their economic sovereignty.
This could in turn lead to “economic specialization” within countries and regions that hampers their diversification policies, but nevertheless makes the entire continent more attractive to foreign investors such as the former European colonizers, China, America, India, Japan, and evenTurkey because it could now become reconceptualized as a single interconnected economic space. Accordingly, the role of regional integrational blocs might increase in the interim as different parts of Africa jockey for leading positions in this continental framework and seek to woo more Silk Road and “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor” investment.
Importantly, African leaders Nigeria and South Africa abstained from agreeing to this arrangement out of concern for its far-reaching implications, which could one day entail efforts to unveil a common currency and even remove national borders in order to enable the free movement of labor. This latter concern could lead to looming socio-cultural challenges within Africa’s largest and most diverse states because their populations may not react positively to the influx of poorer individuals from elsewhere streaming into their countries and competing with them for jobs.
South Africa already has a well-known xenophobic problem that would only get much worse if so-called “Weapons of Mass Migration” uncontrollably swarmed into its borders, and other leading countries such as Nigeria might experience the same in the near future too. Contrary to the lingering and incorrect stereotype of some kind of homogenous “African culture”, no such thing objectively exists, just as it doesn’t for Europe, Asia, or anywhere else due to each continent’s tremendous diversity, and any perceived (key word) threat to the established way of life that a nation has charted since independence might engender a domestic political reaction.
It’s therefore possible that the CFTA could become a potent election issue, though because of the comparatively lesser independence of African states and their population’s mostly non-Western political culture, large-scale dissent and protests might not develop around this issue right away except maybe in a few countries like South Africa and Nigeria. Another forward-looking factor to focus on is that peripheral conflicts might pose a higher Hybrid War risk to an interconnected Africa than one that hasn’t yet integrated, which could be a security vulnerability if countries don’t proactively respond to these scenarios but also an opportunity for them to multilaterally do so because it.