In 1967, seven years after independence, Nigeria, the country with the largest population on the African continent, was on the verge of a political crisis. Delegates from both sides—the Federal Government of Nigeria and Eastern region—claimed they did not feel safe having a meeting on either sides so they met on neutral ground at Aburi, Ghana.
The meeting was the last opportunity to nip the ongoing crisis in the bud. At the end of the meeting, which must have been tense, the Aburi Accord was born.
Popular for its high mountains, botanical gardens and fine wood markets, the town is fast becoming popular for something else: the seat of high-level government meetings in Africa.
Fifty-three years after the Aburi Accord, Nigerians along with other Africans from different walks of life—civil society experts, business managers, policymakers, technocrats, and entrepreneurs—gathered at Aburi for another meeting.
This time, for the continent. Called the Africa Prosperity Dialogues, an annual strategic platform aimed at facilitating the conversations and partnerships on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Between January 26 and 28, 2023, along with other vibrant voices from across the continent, they discussed the topic, “AfCFTA, from Ambition to Action: Delivering Prosperity through Continental Trade”.
It was organised by the Africa Prosperity Network, under the aegis ofvNana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo the President of the Republic of Ghana, and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat in collaboration with the UN Economic Commission on Africa (UNECA), UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC), and Africa Soft Power – along with partners including KGL Group, Planet One Group and Templars.
People do not just say ‘if Nigeria sneezes, Africa catches cold’ as a joke. Indeed, Nigeria is integral to conversations on improved trade across the continent for several reasons.
First, with over 200 million people, Nigeria has the largest growing population on the continent. No conversation about trade on the continent can exclude Nigeria.
Second, Nigeria is bordered by at least seven countries, sharing land borders with Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger; and maritime borders with Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, and São Tomé and Príncipe.
Consequently, a win for AfCFTA is a win for Nigeria. However, for this win to be maximised for the nation and the continent, several important issues are critical.
One of such is the governing trade laws between countries. For instance, in 2019, Nigeria closed its land borders with Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger to reduce the smuggling of goods, particularly rice.
The AfCFTA advocates for free movement of goods and humans but the terms of engagement have to be clear. Questions like—What happens when the laws of trade engagements are broken? How are offending parties penalised? How are conflicts resolved? What institutions will reconcile and enforce the resolutions within and across African countries? What if it involves parties beyond the continent?—need to be answered.
“The laws that govern trading across Africa need to be harmonised because businesses are the main thrust of the AfCFTA, we need to have robust dispute resolution clauses. In addition, our institutions need the capacity to handle this,” emphasised Oghogho Akpata, Managing Partner, Templars, a full-service law firm with offices in Nigeria and Ghana.
Asides the challenges with smuggling, border security is also connected with the internal security of each country.
While the free flow of goods is crucial to a stronger economy, the rising threats of terrorism, banditry and other existential issues have made many African countries even more cautious.
Yet, trade and security are interwoven. To tackle this, security needs to be taken beyond solely a security official’s point of view. That was the traditional pathway to security; to change the narrative, everyone including the private sector has to be involved, charges, Catherine Chinedum Aniagolu-Okoye, regional director for Ford Foundation, West Africa.
“We need to start mainstreaming security into conversations—especially those around economic empowerment, around trade and business—and recognise that security is integral to the continent’s prosperity,” she said.
Once this is done, the trust needed to trade together will be built gradually across different participating companies in the different countries, stated Ahmed Mansur, president, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria: “We need to ensure that we bring together the key operators —whether it’s small-scale or large-scale enterprises—to come together to build the necessary confidence and trust to work together.”
Read also: AFCFTA can solve currency crisis in Africa
A popular Yoruba saying states that ‘money spoils the eyes of friendships.’ To avoid such controversies, it is important to mainstream a payment system that takes into consideration the diversity in currencies and currency strengths across the continent.
Hence, the need to centralise the creation of a fast secure and technology-led payment system that works. This is because “whoever controls your payments system controls you and will control your trade. If Africa doesn’t have a payment system that it owns and controls, then the AfCFTA will be a pipe dream,” counsels Mike Ogbalu III, CEO, Pan-African Payment Settlement System (PAPSS).
The Africa Prosperity Dialogues at Aburi has come and gone. However, just as there has grown a generation in Nigeria with a limited understanding of the Aburi Accord, and the events after, it is important to involve different generations in the execution of the AfCFTA admonishes Uzodinma Iweala, CEO, The Africa Center.
“I think it’s crucial for us to take a step back and think about how we are developing the next generation to put together a new set of ideas and how we are supporting those people who are going to create the services and goods that we are going to live upon as a continent.”
Beyond the ability to carry on the agreement for decades to come, young people in Nigeria (and Africa) are critical to the continent’s success.
“At some point, we have to realise that advancing new and bold narratives about Africa requires decisive and collective action,” Nkiru Balonwu, Founder, Africa Soft Power, and Advisory Board Member, Africa Prosperity Network stated.
Indeed, collective action involving different segments of Africa has started, as the African Union spearheads this through its Africa 2063, Africa wants agenda, focused on young people. This should be mainstreamed across the continent as young people are behind the wheels of many national economies.
The AfCFTA agreement may be in its early days but if it will achieve its goals, if it will be the beginning of a greater Nigeria, and Africa, then young people have to be central to it.