Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|November 30, 2020|5 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

As Europe Falls Apart Africa Gets It Together

What a difference 23 years makes; on New Year’s Eve a new era of free trade will be born in Africa that’ll create billions of dollars and trade and help haul millions out of poverty. It will be called the African Continental Free Trade Area and it promises to bring down tariff barriers an encourage industrial growth from Cape Town to the Mediterranean Sea.

At a time when the European Union is falling apart, Africa is getting it together. At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Britain – an influential player in the EU for nearly half a century – will fall out of the trading block. At the same stroke of midnight, African free trade will be born.

The latter is even more remarkable in that back in 1997 all of this looked as likely as a day trip to Mars. I know, I was there the at the 33rd session of the Organisation of African Unity – the forerunner of the African Union – in June 1997. It was a different world then.

I can remember clearly how we seasoned journalists and many respected commentators poured cold water on the idea. Those of us who had been through days of chaos at Beitbridge or Ressano Garcia border posts wondered how they could ever see free flowing traffic, never mind free trade. The talk was also of a European-style single currency; I will be honest with you, many journalists laughed; how could this happen? Especially when the only characteristic the Zambian kwacha and the metical of Mozambique shared was paltry value.

It was also a bad time to talk of freedom and trade in Harare with talk of politics and conflict stifling all else. The person who took all the headlines in Harare was the rotund conqueror of Kinshasa Laurent Kabila who came to the conferences just weeks after his rag tag army had fought its way into the Congolese capital and kicked out what was left of the repressive regime of Mobutu Sese Seko. It sparked years of conflict, within a year a handful of African nations – including Zimbabwe and Rwanda – were to be involved in a bitter bush war in the aftermath of that takeover.

Scores of journalists jostled to get a photograph of Kabila as if he were a pop star. This hijacked the headlines and turned out was distracting and bad for the image of a progressive Africa. Despite the fact the taking of Kinshasa was seen as act of mercy against a brutal regime it revived the headlines about the OAU being a dictator’s club; a mere talking shop with little power other than the legitimisation of some of the less legitimate leaders of Africa, many of whom overstayed their welcome after taking their countries through the barrel of a gun.

The OAU spoke about a free trade area as far back as its inception in 1963 and had renewed calls at the 1991 gathering in Abuja, Nigeria, for what was then called the African Economic Community.

It may have been 60 years in the making, but it was worth the wait. A new era of trade that could create wealth and make this continent more self-sufficient through economic cooperation.

Sure, there will be problems aplenty as the free trade area takes shape, bit it took Europe more than 60 hears to get used to the idea and it struggle to this day.

Billionaire Tomorrow believes this new free trade area is not only a godsend for the African economy as it struggles out of COVID-19, but also for the continent’s imaginative entrepreneurs.

We also believe that the story has been under reported and we will be working hard in the next year to tell the unfolding tale through the eyes of entrepreneurs, millionaires and billionaires. It has been called the story of the century in Africa; we agree and will tell both sides of what promises to be a fascinating story.