The Akans in Ghana have a sacred story about sacrifice, a story which made it possible for the Asante Kingdom to be formed. This tale of sacrifice was inspired by a dream of unity Nana Obiri Yeboah had.
A dream that all the Akan states will be one, advancing their common interest in harmony, but that dream was not to be so until there was voluntary bloodshed of royals. Three chiefs laid down their lives so the people may prosper and be in good health. There was no inspired significance for the people, until leadership was summed up in the word, sacrifice.
Sacrifice as a word has an interesting origin; from the Latin, ‘sacra’ from which we get “sacred” and ‘facere’ which means “to make or to do”. Sacrifice is therefore not a linguistic sport but daring to do that which may only be considered sacred. This implies that one cannot do that which is ordinarily required and be deemed to have sacrificed, it therefore only matters to say sacrifice, if it is an act and fit for the ‘gods’.
It thus seems right to remind ourselves of a necessary sacrifice we must make as Africans, a reminder especially fit on a day like this, when we commemorate God Himself having sacrificed everything for humanity. This is an article about the necessary sacrifice we must make to ensure that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) becomes a successful reality post-COVID-19.
The objective of the AfCFTA is unambiguous, to bring together all 55 member states of the African Union, covering a market of more than 1.2 billion people and an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) of more than US$3.4 trillion.
It is almost without question that a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments whiles we harmonize and well-coordinate trade liberalization and facilitation across Africa is a wealth creation strategy and not one only rooted in poverty alleviation. It breaks away from the gradualist reducing poverty narrative to an African collaborative landscape, an arena full of possibility and from where, I believe, comes our salvation.
The question however remains, if the AfCFTA is that important and so critical for the liberalization and growth of the continent, why has it taken us 57 years to get here? Why does it not even appear to be priority one for the continent? And why are we told only 28 countries have deposited its instrument of ratification with the African Union Commission?
There were glimmers of hope as the office in Ghana became legally operationalized on 31st March 2020, but that was just when the coronavirus pandemic threatened us. Will this virus set us forward or backward? Will trading be effective on 1 July 2020 or will the virus be used to derail our growth agenda yet again?
These are questions we must answer but today’s article intends to highlight areas the African youth must focus on as a strategic direction, harnessing the stay at home because of COVID-19 as a strategic planning opportunity. I will emphasize opportunities we must prepare to take advantage of as the continent is changing and perhaps COVID-19 was the necessary reset necessary for planning and strategizing.
- It is a fact that the coronavirus will set many economies into recession. This is not good news but the opportunity therein is that; skill, labour, prudence and investment will be necessary for the rebuilding. The African youth will have to learn to collaborate beyond its imaginary borders and becomes the solution that builds the continent. The young entrepreneur must envisage a market of 1.2 billion in planning post-COVID-19 and not a population of about 30 million people as the case may be in Ghana. This requires new thinking and envisioning; one we must teach ourselves in these times.
- Payment system solutions and E-Business will continue to become relevant and with increasing scale post-COVID-19. The question of how do we pay people intra-Africa will require answers. Enabling business over the internet will become much more relevant after the pandemic. The young African can therefore not choose to be techy, he or she must explore the possibilities. The fields of payment systems and electronic business offer multiple unchartered disruptions and we must learn and enable our societies to grow. Digital can only grow and building skills set that understands these conversations will serve one well.
- Pursing cross boarder value chains must become an agenda. It is perhaps time to make LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook friends transcend one’s country. It is also time to build social capital and depth that can transform into business partnerships. African economies are built on raw material export and an informal commerce but it is time to think of integrating value across Africa with structured, replicable models.
- Standards and Certifications. These are the opportunity to define what is trustworthy. The narrative over the years of slavery and colonialism seems to have shifted the view of what is standard to what is western. The economies may be informal but it is not without wisdom and the young must build businesses around institutionalizing our way of life and business. The African youth needs to enter the fight at redefining standards and authenticity, bearing in mind context and good culture without following blindly, leapfrogging to nowhere.
- Education that is collaborative and intends to solve African problems must become our way of life. I am big on education and I represent a movement called, AfricaLearn. I truly believe development and growth are limited without a progressive meaningful education. It is time for the African youth to learn his history, understand her culture, the continent’s most pressing problems without assuming foreigners will be the little gifts from above wiping the tears off our eyes.
- Harmonizing Laws and Regulations. It is time for the young lawyer to focus on comparative legal study and how to harmonize at least the Lex Mercatoria. How do we aid merchants to trade in a common market must be a thinking in the mind of our jurist and legal minds.
The solution for African problems must be viewed differently. The young African is the factor that has been marginalized for years because the culture treasures age, maybe rightly so, but it is time for the continent to call on the youth to sacrifice and to build a grand future without taking lightly their youth. It is time to depend on the smartness of the African youth because the wealth of nations is no mystery; raw material dependency leads to poverty. It is learning and value-added economy that generates wealth.
The continent is brimming with a young population and that is a gift we must harness. The big structural questions of currency of trade (reserve currency and valuation of goods and services), physical movement across the borders, infrastructure constraints, financing and all are real but it is my prayer that as COVID-19 holds us siege we will think and plan of what we can do and not worry about what other people must do.
Let me end by reminding us once again, the task ahead is truly great and will require some bold acts, acts for which without sacrifice, ‘sacrifice’ would have found itself nowhere near this article. The wolf is not spoken of with not much glory in any African story, but even for the wolves, their strength is not is the speed or agility of the individual but in the unity of the pack. I conclude in the words of H.E. Mahamadou Issoufou, President of the Republic of Niger and Leader on AfCFTA, “Your Excellencies, the AfCFTA baby is eleven months old, healthy and growing. We need to ensure that the baby continues to grow.
The decisions that we make are very critical in this regard.” I wish everyone a happy Easter, praying that, like Jesus we may become aware of the abundant life hidden in sacrifice.
My name is Yaw Sompa, I am an author of two books, the first on Financial Services challenges in Africa and the second on the Leadership Challenges in Africa.
I believe in the continental free trade and only pray COVID-19 is a call from above, indicating: ‘ON YOUR MARKS, GET SET, GO!”
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