Wednesday, 11 April 2018

On Africa’s Free Trade Initiative: Grand Illusion or Breakthrough?

African leaders during the AfCFTA Summit.
Image: Courtesy

On 21st of March 2018 in the city of Kigali, 44 member states of the African Union (AU) ratified the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA). Ratification of the CFTA was the main agenda during the Extraordinary Summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area.

The Extraordinary Summit was a culmination of a series of meetings seeking to boost the intra-African trade which, according to the 2017 African Economic Outlook report, is estimated to be at 15% of Africa’s total trade. Comparatively, Africa’s trade with China and the European Union is at 15% and 30% respectively of the continent’s total trade.

Countless efforts have been made in the past to boost the intra-African trade, but it was during the 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU held in Addis Ababa in January 2012, that a definite plan was formulated to increase trade among African countries.

For instance, the Action Plan on Boosting Intra-Africa Trade (BIAT) was launched during the 18th Ordinary Session, and it highlights seven key clusters to promote trade among African countries. The pillars include trade policy, trade facilitation, productive capacity, trade-related infrastructure, trade finance, trade information and factor market integration.

Basis of CFTA Establishment
The overarching objective of the CFTA is the creation of a single continental market for commodities through the free movement of people and investments across Africa. CFTA is deemed as the precursor of the yet to be established Continental Customs Union and the African Customs Union.

With hindsight, approval of the Lagos Plan of Action in 1980 signaled the intention of African countries to promote economic development with the major highlight of the blueprint being the proposal to establish the African Common Market by the year 2000.

Furthermore, the foundation of the CFTA can also be traced to the Abuja Treaty of 1991 on establishing the African Economic Community (AEC), ratified by 51 heads of governments and states under the auspices of the then Organization of African Unity (OAU).

The Abuja Treaty envisages the establishment of the AEC by strengthening the regional economic blocs in the continent. As such, the Treaty outlines the establishment of the AEC within a period not exceeding 34 years from 1991, through a series of six stages.

Thus, as per this policy document, the AEC should be fully established by 2025 which is impossible bearing in mind the current realities.

More categorically, the sixth stage of the Abuja Treaty outlines that the establishment of the AEC will involve setting up of: the African Common Market, the African Monetary Union, the African Central Bank, and a single African currency among other integration activities.

Additionally, CFTA also has its foundations in the Tripartite Free Trade Area Agreement (TFTA) consented to on 10th June 2015 by 26 member states of the Common Market for Eastern & Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

TFTA is expected to hasten trade activities between the ratifying states through elimination and harmonization of tariffs and non-tariff barriers.

African countries hope to achieve socio-economic development through cross-border trade enhanced by the CFTA framework.

Possible Opportunities?
For decades, Africa has been referred to as the continent with a very high potential in regards to socio-economic prosperity. Afro-optimists have even taken the game of potentiality to another level, a higher one of course, by coining the term ‘Africa Rising.’

A disturbing fact is that Africa has only lived to be defined on the basis of the aforementioned description. It is a subtle affirmation of why the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative is an amorphous view of the purported progress that Africa is making.

I do not endorse the general perception that Africa is rising. Africa cannot be rising as a whole when civil strife is the order of the day in a number of African states. Africa cannot be rising when poverty levels are on the increase. Africa cannot be rising when neo-colonialism is on an upward trajectory. It is that simple.

Far from that, African countries are set to unlock their high economic potential through the CFTA. With a population of 1.2 billion people it is expected that such a population will be a catalyst for the continent’s structural transformation - at this juncture it sounds as if the CFTA is the continent’s magic moment for socio-economic prosperity.

A high population can be advantageous as well as disadvantageous. It is advantageous in the sense that it offers a ready market for commodities and the European Union (EU), China and lately India have shown us that. However, this has to be reinforced with other factors critical in promoting economic growth and development such as innovation among others.

A high population is only disadvantageous when rates of economic growth and development registered are poor. And this has been the challenge facing African countries for decades.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that operationalization of CFTA first by cutting the intra-African tariffs could generate $3.6 billion in welfare gains to Africa majorly through increased production and cheaper goods.

Africa’s economic potential will be unleashed by the CFTA primarily if free movement of people and commodities will take place. But during the launch of the CFTA in Kigali only 30 states signed the free movement protocol. This restricts the movement of people from one African country to another, with the mobility regarded as beneficial at least to some extent.

Challenges to CFTA
Establishment of the CFTA has been lauded as a crucial step towards the economic transformation of Africa, but there are challenges which threaten its take-off.

One of the challenges is neo-colonialism advanced by foreign powers. With China’s heightened global ambitions and take-over of Africa, in addition to the geo-political activities of nations such as USA and others, the expected rollout of the CFTA is set to falter.

An ambitious Africa is a threat to the global ambitions of the foreign states that control political and economic activities in the continent.

It will only take a few Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) conferences and the United States-Africa Leaders Summit meetings to change the CFTA equation, with Beijing and Washington organizing these conferences on the basis of “renewed interest in Africa” theme.

In addition, the flippant nature of majority of Africa’s political leaders is a challenge to the success of the CFTA. On several occasions, Africa leaders have gracefully appended their signatures to a number of declarations seeking to promote social, economic and political development of the continent.

But amid all the fanfare witnessed during such declarations, implementation of the approved policy proposals is done in an erratic manner and dubious fashion. Take the case of the Malabo Declaration and the Maputo Declaration meant to address Africa’s food insecurity and food production levels.

Political leaders in Africa have to endear themselves to the ideals of the CFTA and show unrivalled commitment. CFTA is bound to fail with subpar political goodwill.

The notion of open borders is not only a threat to the success of the CFTA but also to the unity of Africans. There are various research studies in support for open borders with one such study being a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research.  

A common argument for open borders is the increase in productivity for a country where immigrants settle with such people remitting a significant proportion of their earnings or transferring essential skills and technology to their mother countries.

However, various dynamics must be taken into consideration regarding the notion of open borders in view of free movement of people among African countries. African countries have higher rates of unemployment and this is dangerous with the idea of open borders.

Africa’s largest economies by GDP, the most advanced economies, and generally economically stable countries are naturally bound to attract immigrants. But such countries including Nigeria, South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and others have high rates of unemployment.

So, an influx of immigrants to such countries will create tensions with the citizens who will harbor perceptions of their jobs being taken away by non-citizens. The xenophobic attacks in South Africa over the years offer insight into this matter, and perhaps it informed the decision by the governments of South Africa, Nigeria and others not to sign the free movement protocol.

Nationalist sentiments centred on immigration spawned by open borders may occasion some of the African countries to withdraw from the CFTA arrangement or maybe the AEC in the event that the envisaged transition takes place. Brexit and USA’s imminent exit from NAFTA offer insightful lessons.

CFTA will create economic prosperity in Africa, but its success depends on institutional factors such as eradication of corruption, peace, economic and political rights, and generally, competent political leadership.

And depending on what happens next, CFTA can either be a grand illusion or a breakthrough for Africa’s economic prosperity.

This article first appeared on theafricavigil.wordpress.com. 

Friday, 23 March 2018

How Will Recent Political Events in China Affect Africa?

Image: Courtesy.
On Saturday March 17th 2018, China’s legislature – the National People’s Congress - approved the reappointment of Xi Jinping as the nation’s president with no term limits. This political event was a follow up to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China  (CPC) held in October 2017 during which Xi was confirmed as the General Secretary of the CPC for a second five-year term.

Apart from Jinping’s confirmation as CPC’s General Secretary for another term, the 19th National Congress also immortalized the Chinese president by indoctrinating his ideologies – the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era - into the party’s Constitution.

Lately, there are grand intentions to also incorporate the Xi Jinping Thought into the national Constitution of the People’s Republic of China.

Xi Jinping’s speech delivered to the 19th National Congress of the CPC highlighted key principles which his administration seeks to pursue and strengthen.

The immortalization of Xi Jinping’s ideologies, the Xi Jinping Thought, follows a precedence set by the CPC to indoctrinate the policy agenda of the party’s revered leaders as the ultimate guiding principles/ideologies of the ruling party.

Previously, the CPC adopted the Mao Ze Dong Thought as the guiding ideology in 1945 during the party’s 7th Congress though its ‘leftist mistakes’, as documented in the Educational Philosophy & Theory Journal, were corrected during the 12th Congress in 1982.

At the party’s 15th National Congress in 1997, the Deng Xiaoping Theory of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics was established as CPC’s guiding theory. This had been preceded by the indoctrination of the Deng Xiaoping Theory into the party’s constitution during the 14th Congress held in 1992.

Additionally, Jiang Zemin’s Theory of Three Represents was incorporated into CPC’s constitution in 2002, and Hu Jintao’s theory, the Scientific Outlook on Development was ratified into the party’s constitution in 2012.

It can be observed that Mao’s and Xi’s policy agenda are classified as “thoughts” while Jiang’s and Hu’s policy frameworks are described as “theories.” As noted by Zoe Jordan, a Thought, in view of CPC’s constitutional doctrine, “incorporates a body of related ideas into a shared worldview whereas a Theory reflects a mandate relevant to a specific era or relative state of thinking”.

Thence, it follows that Xi Jinping is considered the second most powerful leader of the People’s Republic of China after Mao Ze Dong.

Generally, Xi’s Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era endeavors to strengthen the Deng Xiaoping Theory that has guided China’s development, internally and externally, for close to four decades.

Externally, in terms of foreign policy and strategy, Deng’s ideology fronted a China that focuses on self-advancement without exhibiting aggressive tendencies to shape international affairs. As written by Son Daekwon, Deng Xiaoping stated that, “keep a low profile and bide your time”, and also remarked at one time that, “By no means should China take the lead.”

But with the New Era premised on the Xi Jinping Thought, China is poised to rejuvenate her ambitions as a global power and leader based on Xi’s speech at the 19th Congress as quoted by Daekwon; China will actively pursue a more nuanced global role as “constructor of global peace, a contributor to development of global governance, and a protector of international order.”

Therefore, what does this mean for Africa?

Africa in Context of China’s New Era Ambitions
For Africa, Xi’s intention of a globally powerful and rejuvenated China is not as threatening as it is to the West. The West for a long time discredited China’s model of economic development and political system but China has consistently proven that democracy and market fundamentalism, as known to the West, are not prerequisites for structural transformation and development.

However, as Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson argue out in the book “Why Nations Fail”, democracy is not a necessary condition for kick-starting the process of development, but it helps in sustaining the virtuous circle of economic prosperity for eternity.

With the inroads that China has made in Africa over the past decade having been based on “development” and “non-interference” with the political affairs of African states, that perhaps is bound to change with the re-invention of Xi Jinping’s global politico-economic ambitions.

China’s economic conquest of Africa outfoxed the foreign policy strategy that the West has pretended to champion for ages; promoting the establishment of democratic institutions. But one wonders why the West led by the nosy USA has had a penchant of supporting autocratic regimes in Africa.

That doesn’t mean that China’s foreign policy strategy is the most preferred, unless by majority of African leaders who exhibit autocratic tendencies. China is well known for not prioritizing the rights of individuals and her political history supports this statement.

Formalization of the Xi Jinping Thought and invention of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era imply that Chinese engagement with African states may shift from one anchored on “development” and “political non-interference”, to a foreign policy strategy where the Chinese seek to alter the political architecture of African countries.

What escapes most people’s minds is that China cannot hotly pursue the world’s superpower status through economics alone. It has to tilt the global geo-political and geo-economic scales by influencing the political order of a significant number of countries in the world like what the Soviet Union did during the Cold War.

Africa is likely to witness a resurgent China that will be exporting her political ideologies to the continent. This doesn’t augur well for most Africans who have relentlessly pursued the ideals and values of democracy.

In regards to Africa’s political trajectory, majority of African countries will nonetheless embrace the Chinese political model and ideologies. As a matter of fact, Africa’s political space is marked by a low level of democratic capital and a high level of democratic deficit.

This creates a favourable political environment for the African states to retrogress from establishing democratic institutions, and to embark on building and strengthening a political trajectory that fashions autocratic institutions.

And with majority of African governments being tied to China’s development agenda through the so-called cheap Chinese government loans, the assured long association between Africa and Beijing will certainly create fodder for the latter to export her political ideologies to African states.

It won’t be a surprise that a few years from now majority of African states would have drifted away and departed from the idea of democracy while gladly and blindly embracing the notion of autocracy with the so-called benevolent dictators roaming wild in the continent.

The West Responds, Africa Suffers
Former colonial masters and thereafter passionate neo-colonialists, but nonetheless colonialists, the West continues to influence social, political and economic activities in Africa. Long before China officially bagged Africa as her overseas neo-colony, Western states largely controlled the affairs of African countries though they still do so at the moment.

From granting African states cosmetic independence to shuffling them like cards during the Cold War; to wrecking and crippling their economies through the nefarious and nebulous economic policies known as structural adjustment programmes (SAPs); to orchestrating coupe d’├ętats, and advocating for democratic institutions while at the same time supporting dictators, Africa has seen enough of the West’s experiments.

With China’s emergence as Africa’s new neo-colonial master, the West changed tact in Africa as evidenced by the covers of The Economist magazine in a span of ten years; in 2000, it was “The hopeless continent”, and in 2011 it was “Africa rising.” Was Africa rising because of China?

The Economist’s cover title of “Africa rising” came two years after China surpassed the USA as Africa’s largest trading partner, and so the title was one way of informing the Western governments that they should be more aggressive in Africa as the Chinese had taken over. It wasn’t about Africa rising!

Daggers are drawn! With the invention of the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, the West is watching particularly the USA. USA and her allies will intensify their activities in Africa.

China’s entrance into the so-called New Era already began with Xi’s global ambitions; first, through his politico-lingual invention of the Chinese Dream, and secondly through the ambitious One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR).

Response by USA plus her allies to China’s New Era ambitions may negatively affect majority of African states. USA and the Western league at large will use any means necessary to counter China’s move. They will increase their support for despotic and dictatorial regimes in Africa if need be as long as it proves to be an effective strategy in countering China.

Africa is set to witness an increase in the amount of aid from the West as a counter measure strategy to China’s New Era ambitions. As it has been the norm, whether the aid will be directed to address the fabricated goals or will be embezzled or even unaccounted for won’t bother the West as long as the geo-political objectives are achieved.

So, with China’s bold entrance into the New Era theatre and with USA’s much expected response, Africa will gain in terms of aid and infrastructural development but will also lose; drifting away from the idea of democracy, intensified economic dependence, loss of political independence, proxy wars and economic stagnation.

Will African states find their footing amid China’s renewal of her global ambitions?

This article was first published at theafricavigil.wordpress.com.

The writer can be contacted through sitatiwasilwa13@gmail.com. 

Thursday, 15 March 2018

The Raila-Uhuru Unity Pact in Perspective


Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga after the meeting held at Harambee House.

Courtesy: Capital FM.

T
he new found camaraderie between Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta surprised many people, perhaps with the exception of politicians who have mastered the art of sowing seeds of enmity during daytime and livening their friendship when night falls. Typical Kenyan politicians foot the bill of grand liars.

Equally surprised was the trio of Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula the so-called co-principals of the NASA coalition, which only exists by name, having hit a dead end following a series of unending suspicion and mistrust among the coalition’s parties.

With the trio labeled as the “Three Nigerians” following the narration of the trail of events on January 30th when Raila Odinga took the oath as the ‘People’s President’, daggers have been drawn in NASA coalition with the enigmatic politician accused of betraying the coalition’s cause; the pursuit for electoral justice.

Infuriated with the Raila-Uhuru pact, the three ‘musketeers’ – Kalonzo, Mudavadi and Wetang’ula – bemoaned the failure to be consulted, and initially they didn’t endorse the agreement between the sons of Jaramogi and Jomo save for Kalonzo who sounded evangelical at a funeral stating how the ‘handshake’ was a great relief to him. 

Lately, though, the embattled ‘musketeers’ have expressed their desire to meet with Uhuru Kenyatta. This came after they realized that they were flirting with the state of political isolation; never mind that the trio is a spineless lot with none of them having neither the capacity nor capability to craft, oil and propel a powerful political machine at the national level.

Far from the intrigues surrounding the Harambee House meeting, a significant proportion of the Republic’s citizens, including the disgraced Kenyan politicians, have expressed support for the two – Raila and Uhuru – in their quest to unite the country.

It is hypocritical not to acknowledge the country’s tainted image as a polity whose national politics is premised on ethnic political formations. But, the million dollar question is whether the latest political development orchestrated by Uhuru and Raila qualifies as a critical juncture that will change the course of the Republic’s national politics for the better.

To state that the Raila-Uhuru deal on building the bridges of nationhood is the real deal in transforming Kenya’s national political architecture only amounts to a blatant bluff, hell bent on ignoring the history of political agreements in the Republic.

An astute observer, insightful analyst as well as a diligent student of Kenyan politics will submit to you that political agreements in Kenya are meant to serve the personal interests of the politicians and not the collective interests of the citizens. It is no wonder that such agreements can be dishonored with the differing politicians forging other alliances while publicly declaring their previously deemed political friends as enemies. Who gets hoodwinked? The ignorant citizens.

Motives of the Unity Agreement
A number of factors are believed to have occasioned the political agreement between the party leaders of the Jubilee Party and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) Party; ranging from the would-be genuine factors to conspiracies hatched by the legendary and illusionary conspirators. 

The factor that stands out is the visit by the immediate former Secretary of State of the government of USA Rex Tillerson. In as much as various sections of the Kenyan public view this factor as simply coincidental with the Raila-Uhuru meeting, I am convinced that Uncle Sam played a great role in cementing the deal between the two. 

USA is leading the quite obnoxious and vague War on Terror, and the East African region is considered a strategic segment of the African arc in regards to America’s global geopolitical interests.

Any real or perceived division in Kenya’s national politics is believed to significantly energize insurgent groups like the Al Shabaab. And with Kenya mapped out as a very strategic ally to USA, then Washington had to run up and down to bring Raila and Uhuru on the table while dangling carrots such as financial rewards among other material benefits. Are Raila and Uhuru not corrupt?

Secondly, the issue of legacy of the two political leaders is thought to have triggered the meeting. The sons of the Republic’s first President and first Vice President have the intentions to be remembered as having greatly contributed to the healing of an ethnically polarized country. But I highly doubt if their agreement on unity is an elixir that will enable Kenya to be a nation.

And by the way, legacy is to a politician as reputation is to a well-mannered person. At least Kenyan mainstream politicians have no reputation at all bearing in mind their wayward nature and weird mannerisms. 

Thirdly, Raila Odinga may have chosen to embrace the if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them mantra. In as much as the 2017 presidential election was a charade and a typical monkey business affair, Raila Odinga clearly ran out of options in felling down the corrupt Jubilee administration using gung ho tactics and the trench techniques.

So he may have decided to cooperate with the Jubilee administration to finish it off from within. 

For proper understanding of the former premier’s new found dalliance with his former deputy in the Grand Coalition administration, it is important to revisit Raila Odinga’s political past though in selective terms.

After the 1997 presidential election in which Daniel Moi rigged to emerge victorious despite a divided Opposition, Raila Odinga endeared himself to the ‘professor’ of Kenyan politics, leading to the historical cooperation and thereafter merger between the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and the National Development Party (NDP). The result: dissolution of NDP and formation of ‘New KANU’. 

Raila’s move then was informed by the 2002 succession politics and the possibility that KANU would fail to have a strong and convincing presidential candidate. And the end of the day, Moi embraced ‘Project Uhuru’ and Raila led a mass walk-out of previously KANU diehards from the cockerel party.

Fourthly, the 2022 succession politics may have led to the unity agreement. This factor is informed by the previous (third) one. The doubt is whether Raila will contest for the presidency or not, but the certainty of the answer lies within the two possibilities. 

If he is to vie in 2022, then he won’t be supporting William Ruto and chances are that he might pick a running mate from the Mt. Kenya voting bloc. In case he doesn’t make a fifth stab at the presidency, then Raila Odinga will support William Ruto with the former’s family members and intimate friends assured of a good number of slots in the would-be William Ruto’s administration. 

What if Raila is to support two of the three ‘musketeers’, either Kalonzo or Mudavadi? This certainly means that he has to finish off the Jubilee Party from within and totally emasculate it. But chances of this happening are extremely minimal as the “Three Nigerians” failed to act courageously when it mattered most – during the January 30th swearing in – and Odinga may thus choose to support Ruto rather than the namby-pamby trio. 

Unsettled Questions & the Future
Will the embers of the Third Liberation flicker out since ODM’s cooperation with the Jubilee Party has rendered the National Resistance Movement-Kenya headless? Raila Odinga was a key figure in the struggle and birth of the Republic’s Second Liberation, and he is on record affirming the unstoppable journey towards the Third Liberation. 

Revolutionary-minded and youthful personalities must now learn to chart their own path and break away from the shadow of the former Prime Minister. How feasible is this though? If only the young and progressive minded individuals believe in themselves.

Who will check the incompetency, malaise, excesses and maladministration of the Uhuru Kenyatta administration? In the last five years, Raila Odinga effectively checked the wrongs committed by the Jubilee administration, unraveling one scandal after the other. 

With the new found camaraderie, just who will stand up and criticize the Jubilee administration for its missteps and mistakes? The three ‘musketeers’ are not equal to task neither are the other 2017 presidential candidates. 

What happens to the fight for electoral justice? NASA’s push for far-reaching electoral reforms has hit a snag. As a matter of fact, NASA is primarily dead with its death awaiting the mortician’s mega proclamation. 

Going forward, the youthful and reform-minded Kenyans must reflect and take the responsibility of liberating the Republic of Kenya from the old order. A good number of young Kenyans are already compromised and corrupted by the system, but the struggle for liberation shouldn’t wane neither should it be expected that the ‘Kenya We Want’ will dawn any time soon. It is a long struggle. 

For Raila Odinga, his political career is in its sunset years yet many people still look up to him for leadership. He has done a lot for the country but changing tact and deciding to dine with the corrupt and rogue Jubilee regime is an act of political immorality.

Joining hands with the Jubilee administration can only be acknowledged if social, economic and political injustices will be effectively addressed through proper implementation of the Republic’s Constitution. 

The new found camaraderie is a cosmetic and superficial move towards realizing national unity as political interests will override the intended objectives.

Email the writer at sitatiwasilwa13@gmail.com