During the official commissioning and handing over of the African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat (AfCFTA) building in Accra last week, Ghanaian President Akufo-Addo reiterated the importance of the body to Africas economic transformation agenda. During a Summit of AU Heads of states in Niamey, Niger, in July 2019, to launch the implementation phase of the agreement, his country was selected as the venue for the headquarters. The AfCFTA Secretariat is now located in an ultra-modern office complex in the central business district of the Ghanaian capital. An effective implementation of the AfCFTA will dispel the notion that the AU is not capable of executing its own decisions. Africa’s new sense of urgency and aspiration of true self-reliance will be amply demonstrated by today’s ceremony, Akufo-Addo said. The Ghanaian leader appealed to all AU member states yet to ratify the Agreement, to take advantage of the postponement of the date for the start of trading, and do so by December 2020, to enable us trade fully among ourselves, so we can harness the benefits of the AfCFTA together. Wamkele Mene, who was in February elected as the first Secretary-General of the AfCFTA said the agreement offers the continent an opportunity to confront the significant trade and economic development challenges of our time which include: market fragmentation; smallness of national economies; and over-reliance on the export of primary commodities; among others. During this time of Covid-19, whilst many developed countries are able to provide billions of dollars’ worth of stimulus packages to re-inject growth and economic activity, very few countries in Africa have the fiscal policy and monetary policy space to provide similar stimulus packages, Mene said. Trading under the AfCFTA agreement was due to commence on July 1, 2020, but as a result of the Covid-19 global pandemic, it was postponed. In July, Prudence Sebahizi, Chief Technical Advisor on AfCFTA at the AU Commission, told The New Times that they got assurances that trading within the AfCFTA can start on January 1, 2021. Serious milestone On Friday, Sebahizi said that commissioning the AfCFTA Secretariat marks another serious milestone in the quest to achieve Africa’s vision of integration. Sebahizi added: The Secretariat is going to be the apex organisation for the continent, dealing with trade matters. For hundreds of years, Africans pursued integration-in various forms and contexts as an extension of the Pan-African agenda which promotes the unity and solidarity of African peoples in recognition of not only their common history, but also their shared destiny. Sebahizi noted that the legal foundation of regional integration in Africa is the Abuja Treaty (The Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community) which proposes a step by step process of integration. Today, he said, the Abuja Treaty has delivered the AfCFTA. The AfCFTA Secretariat has huge mandate to coordinate implementation of all policies initiatives and trade rules that will lead to achieving deeper continental economic integration. Such an important institution was needed yesterday. The AfCFTA, the world’s largest free trade area, has the potential to transform the continent with its potential market of 1.2 billion people and combined GDP of around $3 trillion across the 54-member states of the AU. So far, 54 countries have signed the agreement and 28 have ratified it, making this the fastest ratification in the history of the African Union. Cause for celebration Ziad Hamoui, the National President of Borderless Alliance in Ghana, also told The New Times that the handing over ceremony itself was a reflection of the commitment of the Government of Ghana towards African integration and its historical role as a political leader on the scene of international affairs. Hamoui added: It is a cause for celebration to all Ghanaians because the country now hosts a prestigious continental structure, which is a source of national pride and a future source of revenue from the economic activity that revolves around the Secretariat, its staff and its international visitors, tourism, hospitality, entertainment, event management and all accompanying services. One of the hallmark features of the policies of President Akufo-Addo, Hamoui said, is his Ghana Beyond Aid vision. Consider ordinary business community However, Carl Oshodi, Executive Director of Nigeria’s Africa Industrialisation Group, told The New Times that the commissioning of the trade body’s secretariat was more or less grandstanding, highly political and did not really consider the ordinary business community in their value chains symmetry into the urgency. His view is that not until the private sector is aggressive in its political implementation push and strategy, African business community will continue to be at the mercy of politicians.