Opinion

Africa, integration and the great powers

Mercado cercano al distrito central de negocios, cerca de Marina en Lagos, Nigeria - REUTERS/AKINUNDE AKINLEYE
photo_camera REUTERS/AKINUNDE AKINLEYE - Market near the central business district, near Marina in Lagos, Nigeria

The potential of the African continent is enormous. Africa has about half of the world's gold reserves, 12-15% of the world's oil reserves, 8% of the world's natural gas reserves and one third of the world's mineral reserves. It also has 60% of the world's arable agricultural land, and already has a population of 1.3 billion people, 60% of whom are under the age of 25. 

However, it is also the continent most affected by global geopolitical, economic, climatic and war or pandemic events; and it needs to create 100 million jobs in the next 5 years to meet its population growth, and avoid becoming the world's largest exporter of migrants fleeing violence and failed countries.  

In 2021, the new African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) or Continental Free Trade Area came into force, integrating 55 countries. The process was complex but integration can make a difference and boost its economic viability. The single African market can increase its internal trade from 18% today to 25% by 2025, and improve Africa's competitiveness and participation in world trade. 

A united Africa would become the world's largest exporter of oil, gold, copper, cobalt and many other commodities, and the continent is not only rich in resources. Its population will reach 2.5 billion by 2050, and with its diverse ecosystems and diversity it offers many options for the future. The obstacles to integration are security, weak energy and transport infrastructures and low product processing capacity.  

The success of the project will determine Africa's future as the last frontier of global growth. In the context of the struggle for global leadership between China and the US, there is a race to seize the opportunities opening up in Africa. The US is already planning how to conquer the continent and China is building its 21st century Silk Roads, the OBOR "One Belt, One Road" initiative that enters Africa through the Indian Ocean port of Nairobi. Russia has also entered this competition by promoting coup d'√©tats in several African countries. These moves should alert Europeans to the risk of geo-economic encirclement, as the EU has no coherent plan for Africa. 

The value of Africa's foreign trade is estimated at 1.016 billion dollars. Of this, Europe is the largest trading partner, with 298 billion dollars, but devotes only 3% of its investments to the continent. China is the second largest partner, with 261 billion dollars, and is the leading investor, with 20% of its global investments.  

In this new economic scenario, Europe must change its strategy and strengthen its partnership with the South. It is essential to build the Europe-Mediterranean-Africa axis, to turn it into an area of growth and competitiveness, and to avoid immigration problems by favouring development at origin. 

A new Africa is emerging that must seize the opportunities offered by integration and invest its resources in its development. There are many hurdles to overcome for the bloc to reach its full potential, but it is possible. And it will be essential to avoid the negative impact of competition between the US and China to reserve their share of the continent's wealth.  

African countries will need to improve their governance and promote growth. It is time to overcome challenges and differences, create wealth, strengthen the social fabric in a way that respects and sustains human dignity and nature. Africa must trust its people and face its challenges and Africa's future will be what Africans want it to be.