The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which took effect Jan. 1, involves more countries than any other trade bloc on Earth. Of the 55 member states of the African Union, 54—all but Eritrea—have signed on to the treaty, which aims to create a single market through the elimination of tariffs on 90% of all goods by 2022.
The United Nations predicts AfCFTA will boost intra-African trade by 52% within a year. To capitalize on the accord—which was signed in Rwanda in 2018—The Made Man Foundation (TMM) is hosting a series of gatherings as part of its “100 Days of Action” campaign. The goal: to build a global coalition among African nations and the worldwide diaspora.
“There’s a tremendous reservoir of great people. But what has not been possible, and I hope some of us would be able to change that, is building credible relationships,” said Sidique Abou-Bakarr Wai, Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the United States. “I know the role the African diaspora could play, because I’m a product of that diaspora.”
Abou-Bakarr, a former policy advisor to the police commissioner of New York City, has lived and worked in the United States for nearly 40 years. He was among half a dozen dignitaries to speak at a March 31 dinner at Swahili Village’s DC location, The Consulate.
The invitation-only event, titled “Building Better Bridges: US, African Nations & The Diaspora,” was preceded by a one-hour press conference organized by prominent local publicist Jan DuPlain and attended by half a dozen African ambassadors as well as other dignitaries and local officials.
“Our mission as ambassadors is to promote economic diplomacy,” said Abou-Bakarr. “Our countries are open for business, but we also want to make sure we are able to educate and inform you in order to allay some of these fears.”
He added: “I would strongly urge that people begin to travel to these countries and see for themselves. What we hope you could get out of this is a constructive engagement based upon shared values and opportunities.”
Ambassador Barfuor Adei-Barwuah is the top US envoy for Ghana, whose capital, Accra, serves as the headquarters for AfCFTA. He said it’s time for Africa’s 1.3 billion inhabitants to shed the stigma of colonization that stunted the continent’s economic growth for centuries and realize their true potential.
“Africans are very well-disposed to foreigners and excessively helpful, with a certain strong belief in the fact that we can all share,” he said. “And because of that, a lot of those who came basically ripped us off, and we didn’t resist. You begin to wonder how we managed to survive.”
But now, Africans are in the position of making choices for themselves.
“This is the time,” he said. “Africa has more resources than the rest of the world put together. We have a very young, expanding population with a voracious appetite for virtually everything. For those are into trading and manufacturing, the markets of the future are in Africa.”
Warm words of encouragement were also offered by ambassadors Frederic Edem Hegbe of Togo; Mahamadou Nimaga of Mali and Hilda Suka-Mafudze of the African Union, as well as by Charles Debow, vice-president of the National Black Chambers of Commerce.
Although delayed by the pandemic, AfCFTA covers nations with a combined GDP of $3.4 trillion. The value of the new agreement can’t be overstated; the World Bank says it has the potential to lift 30 million Africans out of poverty, restore the continent’s economic and public health, boost member nations’ self-reliance and reduce political instability and insecurity.
“The coming years are going to offer great potential for Africa,” said TMM’s founder, Dr. Ky Dele. “However, maximizing this potential requires engagement by the world community and we must start building those bridges now.”