President Paul Kagame has said that the envisaged Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (CFTA) will be the best thing that has happened to Africa if implemented.
Kagame was speaking yesterday during an interactive session with African broadcasters at the General Assembly of African Union Broadcasting (AUB) in Kigali.
He said that from interactions with people from across the continent, African citizens are eager for the initiative’s rollout as most are aware of the benefits.
“What I am seeing is that Africans really want it and the fears they have are outweighed by the benefits. They are huge and we are forging ahead,” he said.
The agreement is set to be signed next week in Kigali at an extraordinary African Union summit.
“The lost opportunity of not having a free trade area is much bigger than the fears,” he said.
The President added that the continent has long suffered from its inability to allow free trade and movement of people across the continent.
“If you look at what we lose by not trading among ourselves and by not allowing free movement of people and of goods and services across Africa, the cost is huge,” Kagame said.
About 26 Heads of State and Government are expected in Kigali next week for the signing of the agreement slated for March 21.
The ultimate aim of the agreement is to make Africa a trade zone where goods and services can be traded with no restrictions among member states.
The guarantee of a larger and easy-to-access market will in turn boost production capacities of firms in the continent leading to other benefits such as increased job creation and more tax receipts for government among others.
Fears of going ahead with such initiatives are often unjustified, he said, citing an example of Rwanda’s experience after opening up its borders.
He said that, during the process, Rwanda was severally ‘warned’ that opening up borders could lead to security challenges which was an unjustified fear.
“In Rwanda, when we removed visa requirements for Africans, we were told that we are going to create a problem for ourselves. We were told that we were going to have criminals and all kinds of people coming here to destroy what we were building. The good news is that it has not happened for the years we have removed the visa requirement,” the Head of State said.
President Kagame urged the African broadcasters to use their platforms to enlighten the people about the benefits of the agreement.
African Union reforms
On the ongoing African Union reforms, he said that there is reason to be optimistic about the success of the process as there is a sense of urgency to have new approaches of doing things.
“Maybe with time, we realised that we are wasting our own opportunities and we have got to get going to do something for ourselves. The African leaders now think it is the time to be able to do that,” he said.
Kagame pointed out that the past failures and mistakes as well as pressures from a range of challenges are a further drive towards successful reforms.
Unlike other reform attempts, the ongoing reforms have also featured new players from a range of sectors further improving its prospects of success.
As the current Chairperson of the African Union, Kagame commented on the suitable approaches to address the African migrant crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of Africans die at sea and others sold off as slaves.
He said that, other than responding to the challenge as it occurs, it is more important for countries to understand the root causes of the issues.
“African countries, individually and collectively, have to find and understand the root cause of this. Why are these young people leaving and going to die in such bad situations? We have to deal with the root causes, why are our young people running away from us to be sold in the market and drown in the seas? We have to get to the bottom of this,” he said.
Among the questions that could be answered during the process include relevance of policies on social economic welfare.
“It has to do with our own governance, socio-economic welfare that should be giving opportunities to these people, giving them employment, retaining them and making them believe they can stay and only go abroad when it is their choice,” the President added.
Rwanda is one of the countries that has offered to give sanctuary to the African immigrants stranded in the North African country of Libya and facilitate logistics for those willing to return to their home countries.
The intervention is being done in concert with the Africa Union and other partner organisations.