COVID-19 In-depth Analysis

Deepening Africa’s Continental Trade & Economic Relations amid COVID-19

The effect of COVID-19 has not been limited to Africa alone. The pandemic first emerged in China, the epicentre, from where it spread to Europe, and then to North and South America. If these regions of the world that have been heavily infected and affected by COVID-19, are able to implement measures to bounce back then we in Africa must do the same by learning from their experience and by devising our own home-grown solutions.

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Photo by Jonathan Ernst / World Bank
Photo by Jonathan Ernst / World Bank

There are many lessons that Africa must draw from the other regions in terms of how they have handled the pandemic, and then together with our own efforts, we can seek ways to advance the various frameworks for the continent’s socio-economic development and overall security and general progress. 

One major lesson that #COVID-19 has taught us is that we should be self-reliant in food and nutrition and in essential agribusiness implements and domestic appliances  @OluObasanjo1

In my opinion the most important aspect for Africa is that we must not allow the degeneration of the agri-business and manufacturing sectors, which by and large have not been severely impacted upon by COVID-19. We must take advantage in parts of Africa, which enjoy good rainfall, to ensure that we do not relax in our efforts to sustain our agri-business. Indeed, Africa must take these two sectors seriously, ensuring that they are not heavily affected by COVID-19, because they are very central to the continent’s efforts to recover from this pandemic. In other words, we must be able to feed ourselves, and this pandemic must be taken as an opportunity to make sure that Africa is self-sufficient in staple and essential food items.  Africa should save $44 billion on the importation of food annually.  I believe that the one major lesson that COVID-19 has taught us is that we should be self-reliant in food and nutrition and in essential agribusiness implements and domestic appliances.  

Other sectors of the economy have been badly affected by COVID-19 in Africa. These include air travel, air transportation, hospitality, and tourism and we will have to see how the rest of the world, where such sectors have equally been adversely affected, find solutions to manage the impact. 

The most important aspect for Africa are the areas that we must not allow to degenerate and these are agri-business and manufacturing@OluObasanjo1

When looking at trade, it is important to be clear in our understanding that COVID-19 has only delayed, but not derailed, the operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). We must desist from the view that the AfCFTA is now off-track due to COVID-19. This is especially so because the necessary arrangements, including the setting up of the Secretariat and the appointment of key officials, have been carried out. However, we must be mindful of, and appreciate the fact that some aspects relating to the full operationalisation of AfCFTA require physical contacts, which cannot happen at this stage because of the measures put in place to deal with COVID-19. While it is true that COVID-19 has opened up opportunities to use online platforms and modern technologies to communicate, when discussing matters of trade and movement of goods, there is a limit to what can be done online. COVID-19 measures have put some restrictions on the movement of goods and people, on physical and personal contact, and these have affected business transactions. These barriers were put in place in order to make sure that there is no transmission by people who are affected and who may carry COVID-19 from one place to another. I also believe that, at times, delays may even allow you to be extra careful and therefore better prepared when you are launching something like the AfCFTA. So, this delay may actually give us an opportunity to do the extra hard work that requires some time so that when we eventually go into operation we are battle-ready, and do so in full force. I genuinely believe that nothing will happen that will derail the full implementation of AfCFTA, if anything, Africa must use this situation to fully prepare itself for the operationalisation once most of these restrictions are lifted.

Happily, I observe that various parts of Africa are starting to  open up to allow the movement of people and goods by sea, road, and air and this rekindles our hope that we will indeed see the implementation of our commitments to strengthen intra-African trade through the eventual full operationalisation of the AfCFTA. I see COVID-19 as an impetus rather than a hindrance.

Olusegun Obasanjo is the Former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

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