A new Africa after the pandemic

La falta de oxígeno agrava la pandemia en África y América Latina

On January 1, Africa's new Continental Free Trade Area came into force. The process of economic and trade integration can make all the difference to the viability of the continent's economic competitiveness. The project will provide a unified market of 1.3 billion people and may determine Africa's success as the last frontier of global growth.

Most African countries have so far escaped the worst impacts of COVID-19, but it threatens the region with its first recession in 25 years. Some countries are undertaking reforms and investments that will be crucial for sustained development and recovery.

A new Africa is possible

A new Africa is emerging with a sense of urgency and a purpose and aspiration to become self-reliant. But many obstacles must be overcome for the bloc to reach its full potential.

Covid-19 has shown that Africa is too dependent on commodity exports, and on global supply chains. The region risks being left behind as other regions reconfigure their trade positions.

In the new post-COVID-19 economic scenario, global supply chains are shortening, forcing Europe to change its strategy and strengthen its partnership with the South. It is essential to build the Europe-Mediterranean-Africa axis and make it a zone of competitiveness and development in solidarity.

CFTA Continental Free Trade Area

The pandemic exacerbates the lack of inter-regional trade, which has prevented the continent from realising its full potential. As the CFTA comes into force, it is therefore a great opportunity to accelerate integration and generate new sources of prosperity from its own trade and domestic flows. 

The single African market can increase its internal trade from 18% today to 25% by 2023. The mobilisation is immense, but so are the rewards, the key factor being integration. 

There are big differences between the richest and poorest countries, but there are also common concerns, political risk and democratic deficits contaminating the region with internal and cross-border conflicts. Obstacles to regional integration are security, weak energy and transport infrastructure and low product processing capacity. A united Africa would become the world's largest exporter of oil, gold, copper, cobalt and many other products. Moreover, the population will reach 2.5 billion by 2050.  

The continent is not only rich in resources, its strong demographics, diverse ecosystems, and diversity open up many options for the future. 

Africa needs to create 100 million jobs in the next 5 years to meet population growth and also to avoid becoming the largest exporter of migrants and the ideal scenario for failed countries. 

There is an urgent need to accelerate the pace of reforms in the education system. Two thirds of young people believe their education is not in line with the labour market. Closing the gap would reduce poverty by 13% and inequality by 18%. The overall proportion of the population living below the poverty line has declined but the pandemic could shift the trend back towards extreme poverty.

Regional integration can increase investment, competitiveness and market size and improve continental participation in world trade.

In Africa, states must facilitate the role of business and business must be the partner to help solve citizens' problems. Women can also play a key role. They are already leading 7.5 million microenterprises and SMEs in the formal sector, and four times as many in the informal sector. We must reduce the barriers that create gender gaps, and support women's economic liberation and entrepreneurship.

It is time to overcome the challenges to create wealth and contribute to the common good by strengthening the social fabric in a way that is sustainable and respectful of human dignity and nature. Africa must rely on its youth and women and face its challenges.

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