Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Africa Free Trade Area: For What? Mangoes?

Trust me, African presidents can dream big. I’m not talking about their stomachs here (which are proportionally bigger than any in the world), but I am talking about their actual day dreams. I’m talking about that making-Africa-better rhetoric.

Unfortunately, the current head of the African “state” (my beloved Tanzanian president), is heading that rhetoric.

In his recent speech in Maputo , Mr. Kikwete contended that the current EAC and SADC bloc are just temporary; because once the formation of an African free trade area, these blocs would be meaningless.

The rationale for absconding EAC and SADC are actually valid and technical, if true. According to Mr. Kikwete, the World Trade Organization prohibits one country from joining more than one customs union. So the formation of an African free trade area would bring about a blanket customs union that would allow African countries to vend their goods within the continent, while complying with the WTO mandates. Honestly, that is absolutely brilliant.

According to other African leaders, however, the rationale for the proposed creation of the African free trade is to “enhance trade African countries and international community to improve wealth, employment and Africa’s overall economic well-being”. This definitely sounds good, but impracticable. Haven’t Africans heard of this type of self-reliance rhetoric before?

The fact of the matter is this: most African countries, particularly in the COMESA, EAC, and SADC blocs lack capacity. When one cites a cool rationale as “enhancing trade with the international community”, what exactly is one communicating or advocating? Selling or buying more from the international community? If selling more is what Africa wants, then the question is selling more of what? Mangoes? Coffee?

I am not trying to be comical, because the continent is primarily a supplier of raw materials. African ain’t going to supply computers in the near future. African ain’t going to supply cars and heavy industrial products in the next two years. Africa ain't going to take a leading role in technology. Africa is not going to lead in research tomorrow. Africa is not flying to the moon next month. Let’s be real.

So what about focusing on capacity building first, instead of jumping into all these brilliant ideas that won’t yield anything? What about focusing first, for instance, on creating an environment that would lure back the brightest African minds that are currently building the Western world? Who does not know that trade alone would not change the African fate, but a paradigm shift within Africa itself?

Furthermore, if the African continent is trying to emulate EU or any other; that is reinforcing what Africa has always been – reactive and lacking in unique, revolutionary, and progressive ideas. I understand the power of collectiveness, but collecting more foolishness in a larger pool will definitely explode into stupidity, the worst of its kind. EU and other blocs have succeeded because they are expanding what has already worked, not experimenting.

Let’s get some facts, shall we?

According to data released by AGOA, excluding Nigeria, Angola and South Africa, other African countries didn’t do much trading with the United States as recent as September 2008. Of the $60 billion of good Africa supplied to the United States, 80% of that trading was generated by Nigeria and Angola, mainly from oil, not technologically produced goods. My beloved Tanzania, whose president is talking about Africa's free trade area? A meager $1.8 million!

Either Americans don’t buy the African mangoes or Africans don’t know how to sell their mangoes. You be the judge.
Photo Credit: AGOA.gov

No comments: