President Uhuru Kenyatta (left, waving the Kenyan flag) welcomes the first train in Nairobi on the new Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway in May 2017. The first standard gauge railway in Kenya route connects the largest port of East Africa, Mombasa, and the capital Nairobi. Experts say to realize the promise of the Continental Free Trade Area agreement requires massive investment in infrastructure / Photo: Kenyan Presidency

How Continental Free Trade Area will shape Africa’s future

The historic African Continental Free Trade Area agreement went into force on 30 May 2019. Creating the regionally integrated Africa of our dreams, will require political will, policy changes, and private and public sector partnerships, argues Dr Victor Oladokun, Director of Communication, African Development Bank.

In 2018, the fictional country of Wakanda in the blockbuster movie Black Panther, was ranked fourth as the most mentioned ‘country’ in Africa during TV broadcasts, according to a recent study by the University of Southern California. Coverage of Wakanda far exceeded mentions about African business, travel, health, sports, or development.

While the finding is amusing, it is a reminder of the significant narrative challenge an integrated Africa faces in showcasing opportunities and the many transformational changes taking place on the continent. Ultimately, effective and transparent communication will be key to regional integration, and the capacity to attract investor and partner interest.

At the heart of every civilisation is a human desire for game-changing solutions that transform nations and human lives. Vibranium, Wakanda’s equally fictional precious metal, was the key to making it the most technologically advanced nation on the planet. But in reality, critical to a regionally integrated ecosystem will be how Africa continues to innovatively use, manage and add value to its tremendous resources.

Tectonic global shifts are already changing every aspect of our economies and enterprises. Also affected, are policies, education, research, ICT, finance and banking, trade, migration and the mobility of human capital, goods and services. The African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, which came into force on 30 May 2019, holds the tantalizing prospect for the creation of a single market for goods, services and the movement of persons, with a total GDP of $2.5 trillion, and a combined population of one billion people.

Astounding and rapid technological developments are already underway in artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotech, quantum computing and Big Data. The African Development Bank and partners such as The Rockefeller Foundation, Microsoft, and Facebook, have launched a Coding for Employment Program to create over 9 million jobs and reach 32 million youth and women across the region. With an eye on the future, the African Development Bank is also working to bring advanced drone technologies to African agriculture with a pilot project already underway in Tunisia, and plans for potential regional rollouts.

The fact is that it’s no longer ‘business as usual.’ The ground underneath our feet is shifting at amazing speed. So, one thing is certain. The near future will be radically different from anything we might contemplate today. Which is why the African Development Bank and its partners, will continue to work toward integrating the best ideas, technologies, policies, systems and infrastructure.

Creating the regionally integrated Africa of our dreams, will require political will, policy changes, and private and public sector partnerships. It will also require positive human agency and energy that is characterized by vision, great hope, trust, and a genuine love of humanity. Only then, can we expect to bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number of Africans ever.

In 2019, as the African Development Bank commemorates its 55th anniversary, we are poised to play an even more strategic role, in conjunction with the African Union Commission and other partners, to help make Africa’s economic integration a concrete reality.

Together, we will irreversibly impact and transform the lives of millions of Africans.

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