Wars in Africa are bad for the AfCFTA
The objectives of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) of boosting intra-African trade in goods and services and eventually “to create a single market for goods, services, facilitated by movement of persons in order to deepen the economic integration of the African continent …” (Art 3 AfCFTA Agreement) are directly undermined by the wars, coups, and instability that plague Africa. As a basic requirement, the flow of goods, services and investment across borders require stability, peace, and good governance. There should be long-term regional policies and conditions that will attract foreign direct investment for the AfCFTA to be implemented and spur deeper ties among the State Parties. Trade flourishes when borders and air spaces are open, not closed, as is now the case on the border between Niger and Nigeria.
The recent coup in Niger serves as a stark reminder of how fragile the African trade and integration environment often is. Some borders with Niger have been closed and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has threatened to take military action. The deadline for doing so expired on 6 August 2023 and this crisis continues. Some of the governments in the Sahel said they would support the junta in Niger. Western nations called for the reinstatement of the elected government but ruled out military intervention.
Africa’s wars are numerous, severe, often cause mass displacement of people and major refugee problems. Individual states and entire regions can be destabilised. Foreign forces become involved in unstable countries on the continent, sometimes to support military juntas. War and internal disruption often leave long-lasting scars.
The disruptions of trade flows due to military conflicts can also lead to changes in economic structures of countries, to subsequent changes in trade policies, a waste of resources, and to the disruption of established trade patterns in regional and multilateral trade arrangements. The resettlement of refugees generates long-term structural, health and political problems. Since the war in Ukraine, the danger of African countries becoming battlegrounds where global tensions will play out has increased. Demonstrators in Niger have waved the Russian flag and have called for an end to French involvement in their country. The Wagner Group has pledged its support to the junta.
The recent coup in Niger and the subsequent division in the ranks of ECOWAS has had additional negative effects. It has paralysed ECOWAS, one of the major Regional Economic Communities (RECs) on the continent. It means the peace-keeping role that the RECs are expected to play becomes impossible. For individual countries, taking up arms against Niger will be a high political risk.
Since the REC FTAs are also building blocks of the AfCFTA, trade liberalisation and deeper integration in the west African region are threatened. In the East of the continent, matters are not much better. A paramilitary force and the national army have been fighting each other in Sudan since April 2023. In Ethiopia, a civil war has been raging for more than two years. Two important regional economies, Nigeria and Ethiopia, are affected, while the whole Sahel region has seen further destabilisation.
The coup in Niger aggravates a humanitarian crisis. Some commentators are of the view that Niger is “in chronic crisis.” It has the highest birth rate in the world, and predictions are that its population will triple by 2050. With 25 million inhabitants, it is at the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index, only ahead of Chad and South Sudan, and 42% of its population live in extreme poverty, according to World Bank data. Like its neighbours in the Sahel belt – a region made up of a dozen countries on the southern edges of the Sahara Desert – it is plagued by conflict and the effects of the climate crisis. Even before the coup, 4.3 million people were dependent on international aid, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and 3.3 million were in a situation of “acute food insecurity.” Among the most vulnerable are some two million children, according to the latest UNICEF report. These figures could double in a very short time under the current situation.
Can the AfCFTA do something about keeping the peace in Africa? The AfCFTA is not an African peace-keeping agency. That is the responsibility of the RECs and the African Union (AU). The latter has an initiative to “silence the guns” across the continent by 2020. It has not yet met to discuss the crisis in Niger. The United Nations has deployed many peace-keeping forces in Africa.
ECOWAS continues to meet to discuss what to do about the coup that ousted the president of Niger on July 26th. Both Niger and Nigeria are members of ECOWAS. And they have both ratified the AfCFTA Agreement. ECOWAS is still hoping for a diplomatic solution. Opposition to an intervention appears strong in Nigeria, the bloc’s biggest player, and any operation would be risky. The chances of reinstating the former President via diplomatic efforts look slim.
The 15 members of ECOWAS are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. The main goal of ECOWAS is to promote economic cooperation among member states in order to raise living standards and promote economic development. ECOWAS has also worked to address some security issues by developing a peacekeeping force for conflicts in the region. ECOWAS established its free trade area in 1990 and adopted a common external tariff in January 2015.
 The Nigerian Senate adopted a resolution against military intervention by Nigeria.
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