Sunday, May 9, 2021

Africa Rising…through intra-continental free trade

The western media has often come under immense criticism for its negative portrayal of Africa as a continent of doom and gloom. This has sparked debate among journalists, economists and politicians; with some saying the blanket portrayal of Africa as a doomed continent was unfair while others said it was justified as there is nothing positive to report about Africa.

The same topic was thrashed out by business reporters from all over Africa at the Sanlam summer school of financial journalists. It is generally agreed that while Africa has over the years come up with positive initiatives aimed at lifting its people from poverty; such initiatives were undone by the painstakingly long time it took to achieve limited progress. It is therefore not surprising for stories on Africa’s success to be trailing behind the tragedies that befall the continent almost every day.

So what is the solution? For Ajey Sita, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ernst&Young, reports on Africa are not entirely negative, as there are some positive reports that have appeared on the media. He believes that Africa enjoys a mix of both positive and negative reports, which is hardly surprising given that the continent is a mix of cultural diversities.

“The mixed picture that the media is portraying about Africa actually reflects the complexity and diversity of this great continent. There has never been a one size fits all answer, but it must be remembered that perspective is very important,” he said.

The fact is that Africa has a lot of success stories, but somehow they get overshadowed and diluted by the harsh realities of everyday life in the continent. Many media reports about Africa are often biased and detached from what is actually happening in the continent, which fuels the negative perception that continues to distort the truth about Africa. In fact, concerns have been raised about western media’s blanket portrayal of Africa as a ‘country’ and not a ‘continent.’

It is often surprising that Africans hear of stories about Africa, but strangely never actively participate in telling those stories. This has sparked a fierce uprising among African journalists who are hell bent on reporting positive stories about the rise of their continent. Over the last few years, there has been a notable upsurge of positive developments in Africa, which gives African reporters impetus to tell the African story.

The story of intra-Africa trade, for example, is a story of Africa’s positive revolt and determination to live up to its highly acclaimed potential. Currently, intra-Africa trade contributes only 12 percent of total trade in the continent, and its contribution to global trade is at a paltry two percent. These insignificant trade figures are a clear indication that over the years Africa has failed to harness its numerous regional integration protocols to a point where they impacted on the continent’s total trade.

Such trade protocols and agreements include the  Southern African Development Community (SADC), East Africa Community (EAC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Five years ago, Africa kick-started negotiations to combine the three trade blocs; SADC, COMESA and EAC to form a single continental market that would facilitate free movement of goods and services throughout Africa. The tri partite free trade area would eventually give birth to the continental free trade area. Six months ago, on June 10th 2015, African leaders committed to the tripartite free trade area by signing an agreement to open up the markets in the 26 countries that fall within SADC, EAC and COMESA, thereby creating the largest common market in the world. While the specific details of the tri-partite free trade area are still to be finalized, the protocol is expected to provide realistic and actionable insights that will pave the way for a continental free trade area.

The signing of the tripartite free trade area agreements and commitment towards eventually setting up a continental free trade area will enable Africa to address the plethora of problems that have been hindering business and trade, among them the high cost of doing business, protectionism and slow pace of regional integration.    It is a fact that Africa has made great strides in addressing its challenges, and such strides cannot be reduced to a simple black and white novelty of initiatives, but must reflect the nuances of the uprising. In other words, the media and other stakeholders must pay due attention to the reality that major challenges exist for them to fully appreciate the immense efforts that Africa has made over the years.

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