Benjamin Watch | 8 April 2021
Northern gatemen and geopolitics of AfCFTA
By Musanjufu Benjamin Kavubu
This year I wanted to be a “one blog each month” blogger but that goal failed last month when I posted 3 times. Today, I do a follow-up of my AfCFTA post that I did early last month. It is best you stop and run back to that post if you did not catch it, especially if you are visiting Benjamin WATCH for the first time.
I am certain that by now Africans know about the free trade area that came into effect when the year 2021 began. The ceremony was held on zoom, something we are now accustomed to.
African Continental Free Trade Area which I will refer to as AfCFTA throughout this article, has materialized at the time when Globalization is being used to hide all sorts of ambitions including the second empire and colonialism. AfCFTA is not just about the economy and markets, it is also a political setup from the African Union and African Development Bank. Maybe this explains why the Secretariat is located in Addis Ababa which is the de facto political capital of Africa.
Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and with reluctance Libya because of their former leader who was more African. These Arab countries that form up the North and the gateway to the African continent have not seen themselves as part of us (Africa). The only time they have related to Africa is during the biggest football(soccer) event on the continent. In fact, they are only Africans when they are winning sports events. The other thing we can remember about them is that they aided the colonization of the rest of the continent. In the past, Morocco refused to be part of the Addis Ababa formation because the rest of Africa recognized Western Sahara as a breakaway region. It is common knowledge that before the Arab spring, Egypt had given up on Africa and they were hurt by Ethiopia big time.
What has changed now? The numbers! The free trade Area that AfCFTA makes paints a GDP of $ 2.5 trillion and a population of 1.2 billion people thereby making it the biggest economic block now. For a while, as the free trade area was being formulated by African economists and diplomats, the rest of the world was watching and scheming how to turn the 1.2 billion people into a consumption mechanism for their products. They apparently fantasized on how the $ 2.5 trillion GDP would power production. For the European Union who are Africa’s biggest trading partners, decided through the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union to form a joint proposal for “a new comprehensive EU strategy with Africa,” based on a program of ‘five partnerships’ for;
1) Green transition and energy access which sounds like stealing oil and gas as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan.
2) Digital transformation; I am yet to figure out what they mean by this one to this point for the last 12 months.
3) Sustainable growth and jobs; funny because the European Union seems to be struggling. In addition to this, from my past experience in the Katosi Water pipeline and water production plant procurement in Uganda, the jobs are for the French mostly, the good ones and vital ones.
4) Peace and governance, I just wonder if they will finally stop selling weapons to Africa and support democracy beyond disseminating outrageous statements.
5) Migration and mobility, sad because migrant boats are sent back to sink in the sea and deportations are more frequent today.
China is involved in the AfCFTA schemes but she does not benefit a lot from Africa like Europe. The EU Exports 36% of its products to Africa against China’s 9% and the European Union’s imports from Africa is 33% against China’s 5%. This is the reason why the Northern part of Africa is the Gateway to this continent. At the end of the day, AfCFTA will be controlled by those that are willing to invest in infrastructure that is directly connected to Africa-to-Europe manufacturing value chains bringing about the trans-Mediterranean connectivity which creates local manufacturing that participates in European value chains.
The basis for a free trade area is free movement of people and free movement of goods and commodities across countries’ borders. This then centers everything on transportation. In primary school during the transportation topic, the “Trans-African high way system” was a feature, and we are going to go back then to figure out this whole geopolitical fiasco that we are going to find ourselves into soon.
For the Trans-African highway to fully function and benefit Africans, it has to be expanded and developed by those with the capital and power for example Europe, China, Russia, and the GCC members like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE among others. These powerful and rich countries have to work hand in hand with North African countries to facilitate their ambitions. We all know China is committed to its Belt and Road initiative that is used to transport their products which they sell in Africa and raw materials they go back with. The Belt and Road project is very much linked to the Silk road and that means it is China’s best option to reach Africa feasibly by road than in the Sea where they have to deal with India and countries that claim the South China Sea. In partnership with Algeria, China has set up a $ 3.3 billion port deal of the Nador Med West industrial port. Whoever controls Algeria, controls the West African countries mainly because of the Trans-Saharan Highway that links Nigeria to the Mediterranean Sea.
There are three or four routes that are the Northern gateways to Africa and will give those coming from the North access to AfCFTA. West Africa-to-Western Europe Corridor that features Morocco as the gateman is the most developed and it’s basically owned by the French. The route has a high-speed railway from The port of Tangier to Casablanca and snakes its way by road to Senegal. Apparently, that setup has made Morocco Africa’s biggest automotive giant and the cars are sold mostly in West Africa. China is in Morocco with the Famous $ 10 billion Tangier Tech City, an industrial park targeting the West African market.
The second notable route that may even spark of wars between powers is the Central Corridor that has Algeria at the center of things. The Central Maghreb -Trans-African Highway goes up to Lagos. Everyone wants the Nigerian market giving birth to the new formation of the EU’s Scandinavian-Mediterranean Corridor to Africa’s Algeria-to-Nigeria which is the famous Trans Saharan Highway we studied back in school.
There are the complexities of the Turkey-Italy-Tunisia Transportation network that connects to both Algeria and Morocco then further come southwards but to West Africa and central Africa then Angola. It is these road systems that give one access to the African free trade area that Turkey decided to bring its troops to assist the Internationally recognized government in Libya another Northern gateman of Africa. Gaddafi had set up highways that connect to his southern neighbors as though he knew the Northern connection would decide the fate of the new scramble for Africa.
The third route is the one that connects East Africa to the Eastern Mediterranean and then Eastern Europe. This starts from the many Egyptian ports. It has the Famous 10,228 KM Cape Town-to- Cairo highway or the great Trans African Highway. This is the route that goes to the horn of Africa then East Africa before snaking through South African countries. Like all other routes that have wars along them, the Trans African Highway has the Nile question, Somalia and its other portion that could be used has the xenophobic South Sudanese who only know violence as an end to means.
For Africa to fully utilize AfCFTA, we have to figure out why there are pockets of wars along these routes from the far West to the East, that is; who funds the insurgents operating in the deserts by the getaway to the continent. Founding infrastructure development is not a problem because there are countries willing to trade and to see through the facilitation of the movement of their merchandise. Our Northern African countries are ready to be African and frankly, Egypt was at the forefront of the formation of AfCFTA or it was just being a tool of Imperialists because it has failed to act a grown-up with Ethiopia.
Nothing is unthinkable, as usual, the world wants to use Africa but it is in our favor that they use us on AfCFTA. The growth of inner African trade could become a fundamental component of sociable peace and monetary progress on the continent, unlocking optimistic markets to established firms. The advancement of African competitiveness and productivity is an important prerequisite for the creation of employment, and in turn, a primary contributor to ease destitution. Besides, livelihood improvement is the best obstruction to wild migration surges, to halt the slave trade to the Arab world and Africans drowning in the Mediterranean.