AfCFTA is on a good track – Obasanjo

The African Union Commission and the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CoDA) recently brought business associations from across the continent together to share perspectives on a wide range of issues relating to increasing the participation and contribution of the African private sector in AfCFTA processes.

The meeting was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Addressing members of the press, former President of Nigeria and Chairman of the CoDA Board; Olusegun Obasanjo, said that the private sector is a major vehicle of delivery and should view the AfCFTA as a great opportunity.

Sunday Times’ Nasra Bishumba was in attendance and below are the excerpts.
Almost two years after the signing of this historical trade agreement in Kigali, would you say that the AfCFTA is on a good track?

Obasanjo: I have been around for a while. Those around my age will remember how we were all worried for a while about whether we will get here. 

However, our leaders agreed to use consensus that those who want to gain should unite as one and forget about boundaries. People like former Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah suggested that we should have one continent as a country but it was decided that we take it slow. 

Eventually we formed OAU which has since transformed to AU. We also had NEPAD and we were all implementing Millennium Development Goals all at the turn of the century. The most difficult was coming up with what happened in Kigali. Three important things have happened. 

One is that we have open skies, number two is that most people get visas on arrival, number three is that we have intra-African trade where we had the first of its kind in Cairo, Egypt. 

When we started NEPAD, we were five countries and up to now, I don’t think that all the 55 countries have ever signed. Yet, it took almost a year for 22 countries to ratify the AfCFTA. So far, 54 countries have signed and a total of 28 have ratified. 

The African Development Bank is on board to support this journey and quite honestly, I can say that last year was a great year for Africa.  

If we do what we should be doing, even if it’s only five countries, by July next year, this will be the fastest trade agreement in the world.

Do you have any anticipation regarding forces from outside Africa that may not be particularly happy with this promising story of the rise of Africa through this agreement?

If we don’t anticipate that there may be negative forces within and outside, then with all due respect, we would be great fools. It’s not that we will not get those who are against us, or those who for their own selfish interests will say, why should Africa be making progress. 

If we don’t think of that, then we are not adequately prepared. However, we are also thinking of an antidote for that. We are adequately prepared, our leaders are coming together and we must remember that when you are doing something right, there are always people who are going to try to pull you down.

While AfCFTA is something that all Africans must be proud of, how do we go around ownership when the African Trade Observatory which is in charge of accelerating this project is funded by the European Union?

One of the things we are trying to do is to make the African Union able to pay itself. The moment we start operations, there will be enough money to fund such. It should be able to fund other essentials like in the area of peace and security. 

AU should be able to go out and manage the situation. We had a situation where there was an outbreak of Ebola. We had 100 Africans who were ready to volunteer but there was no money, until the Chairperson of the AU called African businessmen and raised funds to a tune of around $40m.

This is where the AfCFTA comes in. It’s going to improve production and trade across the continent. This means that governments will have more Value Added Tax and they will then be able to facilitate self-financing for the AU. The task now is to make sure that each African contributes to the success of the AfCFTA.

The AfCFTA is a great idea but can it achieve its goal when there are still serious border restrictions like the one happening between Benin and Nigeria?

I was in the republic of Benin over a week ago and one of the journalists asked the same question and I said that it is the fault of the two countries. 

ECOWAS was not created for one country to use the other as a dumping ground or to undermine the economy of other country.

ECOWAS was also not created for the purpose of closing the border. When I was the President, President Kérékou was the President of Benin. This undermining of the other country by letting Benin become the dumping ground of goods sent to Nigeria was a problem. I called President Kérékou and said, let’s fix this issue. 

We met and decided that Nigeria will put customs in the republic of Benin and anything that is genuinely made in Benin will have free access. To this day, those customs offices are still there.

If I was there now, I would definitely be handling this issue a lot more different from how it is currently being dealt with.

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