EDITORIAL: AfCFTA here at last; is Africa ready to embrace it?

At last the long wait is over, thanks to The Gambia for having cast the deciding vote by being the 22nd country to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The treaty, as well as the African Union’s self-financing mechanism and reforms, were some of the highlights that marked President Paul Kagame’s chairmanship of the AU. They were also the most difficult to pass.

Some countries were hesitant at the beginning fearing to step into the unknown, others were very cautious and suspicious, wondering what was in it for them or whether they were not being short-changed, but in the end, the larger picture won the day.

Now, the most difficult part begins. Once all countries that ratified AfCFTA have deposited their instruments of ratification with the AU Commission, that is when we will really know how deeply committed the signatories are; if it was not just lip service not to be seen holding back the others.

The first step should be a mindset change, especially with politicians who thrive on chaos. Open-door policies are surely bound to ignite some nationalistic fervour, so visa-free travel within the continent will be a very hard nut to crack.

Some of the well-to-do countries will fear that their poorer cousins next door will flow in in droves in search for better living conditions. Just take an example of the current resurgence of xenophobic attacks in South Africa; it is definitely very clear that some politics are at play.

AfCFTA’s only saviour is passing the broom in the higher spheres of power because they need an extreme makeover to get rid of the divisive politics they have preyed on for far too long. Africa deserves better.

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