The preliminary meetings of the Extraordinary Summit of the African Union began in Kigali yesterday with a meeting of permanent representatives. It will be followed by that of foreign affairs ministers which opens tomorrow and a business forum before the Heads of State meet on Wednesday to sign the historical African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
It is hoped that relaxing inter-African trade restrictions will pay off in the long run. A market of over a billion people worth an estimated $3.4 billion has been lying idle for far too long. The signing is a milestone.
African countries are usually polarized and find it difficult to come to a common understanding. The record adoption of the AfCFTA has changed all that. The continent has opened a new chapter of doing what is best for its people.
It is hoped that the African Union has put in place robust monitoring mechanism as some countries are known to put their signatures on paper but fail to honour their obligations, coming up with lame excuses and more red tape. Changing old habits sometimes needs patience for those rearing to go.
That is one of the main reasons why there is less trade among African countries than with either Asia or Europe. This should be a golden opportunity that cannot not be missed as it would wake up a sleeping giant that has wallowed in slumber for far too long.
That, together with the rollout of the African passport will ease free movement of goods and people, the key ingredients in building a robust and vibrant trading environment that will no doubt open new possibilities.