By Tony Obiechina
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has urged all African countries to ensure the quick ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and to implement policies that facilitate and support intra-African trade.
Chief Obasanjo, who is also the Chairman of the Advisory Council of the Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF 2018) in Cairo, was speaking at a conversation session on the sixth day of the trade fair, which is organised by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), in collaboration with the African Union Commission (AUC), and hosted by Egypt.
He described the AfCFTA as an instrument of tremendous transformation which would change the structure of Africa and said that the IATF would help towards the achievement of its ratification, according to a statement from Afreximbank.
He said. “One of the things I hope we will be able to get as quickly as possible is availability of visas-on-arrival or a common visa for a number of countries. It hurts that those who want to trade within Africa need to have so many visas.”
He also highlighted the challenge posed by differing trade regulations in different African countries, noting, “when you want to import or export, there are many different regulations from country to country, and we need to get away from that. What we are doing now will help us get away from that as soon as possible.”
Chief Obasanjo described 2018 as one of the most significant years for Africa with the signing of the AfCFTA in Kigali in March and the inauguration of the first IATF’. He argued that it was time to move beyond rhetoric and take concrete actions to tackle the challenges impeding intra-African trade.
He rejected the notion that Africa lacked the resources to finance its development, saying, “I believe the resources are here in Africa. It’s a matter of how Africa accesses the available financial resources. Money is cowardly – it only goes where it feels safe and wanted”.
The former Nigerian leader commended Afreximbank for its effectiveness in moving forward the intra-African trade agenda and attributed that success to the culture of continuity in the Bank where all the past Presidents have continued to work with and support the current President in pursuit of the development of intra-African trade.
He expressed regret that Nigeria had yet to ratify the AfCFTA, even though the final negotiations for the agreement were led by Nigeria and the final agreement was taken to the country’s executive council and it was passed.
“It is my sincere wish that Nigeria will be at the table before the AfCFTA comes into effect,” he said. “I went around the (IATF) pavilions and the Nigerian pavilion was large. How can you be talking about the IATF when you are not part of the AfCFTA? You cannot absent yourself from what is the way for the rest of Africa”.
Obasanjo also harped on the need to address the global perception of Africa, arguing that the only way to change it was to lift the standard of living of every African which according to him, “is not possible if we choose to swim alone”.