Free Trade Area panacea to Africa’s economic woes
Little economic grounding dictates that markets for products play a critical role in growing any economy, itself a key prerequisite for enhancing the livelihoods of communities. Assuming that the manufacturing base of a nation is sound, with various products being churned to the satisfaction of consumers, the market for such products will have the natural say in the determination of the profitability or otherwise of such business ventures. Markets for products will be essential in determining whether the manufacturing companies will break even or at least eke out profits so as to sustain production.
For industrial productivity to be a reality and if trickle-down effects are to grow the source of raw materials and ultimately generate employment either side of the production circle, a sound market for goods has to be in place or at least be generated through various strategies at the companies’ disposal.
It sounds refreshing as an African for the continent’s political leadership to have finally realised the economic gem in their midst, which is the market, a staggering billion-plus population with the extraordinary potential to change the economic fortunes of individual countries’ domestic economies. About one hundred trade and customs experts from the 26 countries under COMESA, EAC and SADC met in Mauritius to map the way forward on the free trade area (FTA) that brings the three blocs together.
Yes, there is practical optimism in Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s observation that “Strong partnership and co-operation between African countries will bolster trade and investment, consequently improving the living standards of people.”
Whilst China is an indisputable technological giant, its booming economy is partly attributed to its solid market, a staggering one in excess of a billion people. It is every economically successful nation’s secret arsenal. Ask yourself, is it a mere coincidence that the continent’s economic powerhouses such as South Africa and Nigeria also command huge populations? There is indeed power in huge populations which translate to thriving economies in the event of other fundamentals being correct.
Imagine if the whole of Africa was to become a single economic bloc with prudent trade rules being adhered to by individual countries, the continent will be a living paradise to its inhabitants. Such a huge economic bloc will enable small countries such as our own Zimbabwe, with massive potential to reignite its sleeping industrial base, to tap into the vast market for its products.
Those with a stable memory will recall that at its peak, Zimbabwe’s industrial capacity was a marvel for the whole of Africa. Had it not been for the illegal debilitating sanctions which were engineered by the British and their American kith and kin, with the tacit support of their local surrogates, the two Movement for Democratic Change formations, the country’s manufacturing industry could have been robust and intact.
It is pleasing to note that, the recently elected Zanu-PF Government has prioritised the retooling of the country’s industries in the short term. This is what the country needs for it to extract value from the envisaged Free Trade Area. Where a nation has a comparative advantage, it is bound to harness modest profits hence enhancing its economy for the benefit of its citizenry.
All the nations of Africa will benefit from the economies of scale, a simple economic principle where mass production has an effect of lowering prices for consumers’ benefit. With flexible boarder trade policies that cater for smooth movement of labour, production costs will be substantially low which will ultimately trickle to the people, manifesting itself in low prices. Certainly, the quagmire of poverty, which reflects itself in families failing to have decent meals, will be a thing of the past or it will at least be reduced.
There is no need for sceptics to press the panic button by suggesting that such a noble venture will suffer a stillbirth. As usual, in such a grand project which is earmarked to benefit the ordinary folks, merchants of doom, especially those of our own whose livelihoods are sustained by deriding anything African, will be quick to point out supposed anomalies.
Surely, such retrogressive personality need to be watched out for, for their agenda has always been to perpetuate foreigners’ interests. For once, as Africans we need to harness the abundant potential that we possess in order for the continent to grow economically in leaps and bounds.
Just a glance at the European Union, it is the amalgamation of energies by the various governments for the benefit of their citizens. Of course territorial integrity and sovereign issues are of paramount importance to all governments globally, but it is the crafting of economic policies that take aboard such critical pillars that define nationhood that will enable Africa to emerge strong from its deep slumber.
Whilst other continents and economic blocs are bereft of resources to support their economies, Africa is blessed with numerous raw resources whose judicious exploitation is the panacea to the total eradication of various economic and social quagmires afflicting Africa. Each country has to use its comparative advantage which will enable the rest to tap and gain from its expertise which will ultimately benefit the rest.
In order for Africa to sustain such an enormous economic project, there is need to invest in water-tight security which is a prerequisite for peace and stability. Peace and stability are key elements in the bid to achieve economic prosperity at the national and continental level.
For those who have visited Europe, it is quite clear that the political and economic bloc invest so much in security which has resulted in the relative wealth which has accrued to their citizens and countries. Africa should not be an exception as it aims to realise this crucial goal of economic prosperity. Security should always be available to citizens as they undertake their daily chores.
There is therefore need for the various economic blocs in Africa that peace is made available in some trouble spots such as the Renamo-engineered menace in Mozambique, the need to halt the volatility that now characterises the Great Lakes region, the need to bring normalcy in West Africa where coups have become the norm and the need to ensure that the unrest in North Africa is managed so as to concentrate on economic progression.
A casual look at the unrest bedevilling these various spots in Africa will unravel that the hand of former colonisers is ubiquitous in all these conflicts as they attempt to consolidate their hegemony over Africa’s resources. Ironically, it is for the benefit of their citizens at the expense of Africa.
Therefore, the greatest threat to the establishment of this noble economic initiative are the rapacious former colonisers who view it as a threat to their erstwhile illegal role of distributing Africa’s resources as if they were theirs. Africa, it is time Africans control their destiny by ensuring that the economic levers of their continent rest firmly in their hands.
Muchadura Dube is a farmer and political analyst from Nyanga.