IS IT POSSIBLE FOR AFRICA TO REACH CONTINENTAL INDEPENDENCE OR IS ITS LEGACY OF DEPENDENCE JUST FAR TOO GREAT? – DANESSA PRETORIUS

Image: Maksim Shutov Unsplash

The saying ‘no country is an island’ has never been more appropriate than in this modern political sphere. No state works completely independently from any other and most economies are inextricably connected to one another in some way. One such continent is Africa. The whole continent of Africa is established in dependence based on its colonial past and its history of being aided constantly for Western gains, yet the African leaders recently have decided to work together for the betterment of the Continent by strengthening intercontinental trade and heterogeneity. The following article will investigate the African Continent and its recent projects aimed towards total independence, its struggles hindering independence and if it is a viable goal for Africa.

The state leaders of Africa have, since 1910, formed various intercontinental trade projects such as the SACU (Southern African Customs Union) and the EAC (East African Community) in 1919 to try and establish more intercontinental cooperation, in hopes of lessening the dependency on Western aid and ultimately bettering the absolute poverty in Africa. These projects opened many positive trade pathways between states but it was still not on such a large scale to affect the poverty rates or high unemployment statistics in Africa. In May 2019 many African leaders signed what is often titled the ‘most ambitious’ trade initiative in Africa so far, namely the AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) that started as a project by the African Union (AU) in 2012. The AfCFTA encompasses 54 member states from Africa making it the current largest free trade agreement in the world. The goal for this trade agreement is to create a single continental market, as well as free movement between states for business persons and investments. This free market has the capacity to immensely boost African’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) with a rise of up to $60 billion in African exports. The rise of the AfCFTA launches a new beginning to Africa’s long-term goals of independency away from Western financial aid, but it still begs the question whether the goal of independency can be reached or not.

Africa has deep roots in colonialism and several external Western forces still have great power over various African states via their aid for these states. The AfCFTA agreement places trade power back into the hands of the African nations but many scholars have argued that the continent must start to identify further personal priorities, define them and implement them with an outlook on Africa, not just be a “reactionary” force of the West. Africa has been aided by various Western aid schemes since its independence which brought undeniable growth in these new economies, yet it also fostered a culture of dependency without much thought into the idea of a free continent. Africa has the most natural minerals in the world and can produce almost anything on the continent, yet intra-continental trade is only as low as 18% of its GDP whilst imports account for over a $100 billion yearly with food imports alone, accounting to $35 billion yearly. If these billions of US-Dollars were redirected towards sustainable development goals or even the industrialisation of farming within Africa, then there would be a great opportunity for Africa to become its own heteronormative continent as well as boost its export levels to an all-time high. If Africa could reach this self-sufficient state, then it truly would mean an Africa for Africans, yet we must explore what is still hindering this goal.

Africa is of great importance to the global North which means that the continents’ member states sit on various world forums, such as South Africa in BRICS. This ultimately leads to the manipulation of Africa’s frail new democracies and economical systems. Pamela Jordan explains the idea around a ‘New Scramble for Africa’ and notes how even the global south, who are supposed to be boosting and pushing Africa into a new future of development is actually just invading as the global North previously did to now reap the rewards in Africa for themselves. Africa in itself is also a highly unequal continent since certain states are richer in certain minerals and receive more aid based on political gains than others. This translates into unequal gains in the new AfCFTA agreement since certain states would be able to transfer more than others and others would have to buy more as well. Africa is also greatly in debt to several global south states such as Russia and China, but Russia writes off more African debt for greater stakes into Africa which could lead many African countries to place greater importance on their global south relations versus intercontinental relations. It is also important to note that since this AfCFTA agreement is new there would first have to be large tax revenue losses, higher levels of unemployment as well as higher income inequality to equalise nations on the road to equal trade opportunities. Whether Africa can entertain these setbacks in hopes of a greater comeback is still a topic of great discussion among various scholars, especially in light of the recent 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

The following post investigated the ideas around an independent African continent by exploring the new important AfCFTA which combines the capabilities of 54 African member states. Africa has been used and excavated for Western gains for centuries, yet this new trade agreement could start a new future for the continent as a whole. This could lead to better living standards as well as higher employment rates all round if initial setbacks can be overcome. The results of the AfCFTA are fast approaching, it is still an uncertainty whether Africa can accept and fully commit to the change.

Danessa is a young and innovative Final year BA-Law student who enjoys exploring multiple research fields in IR. She is passionate about African issues and most of her work encompasses African solutions for African problems.

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