Africa’s quest to foster pan-Africanism and integration through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could be futile unless deliberate steps are made to guarantee peace and security on the continent.
Africa is largely fragmented ethnically and is home to some of the world’s most protracted armed insurgencies, conflicts, and political violence, perhaps explaining why intra-African trade accounts for only 18% of overall trade across the continent.
Recognizing the need to prioritize trade as a tool to addressing Africa’s development challenges, during the January 2012 African Union Summit the AU set in motion an ambitious initiative, encompassing not only trade in goods and services, but also intellectual property rights and investments, as part of its Agenda 2063 flagship project. In line with this, the AfCFTA aims to boost intra-African trade by at least 53.2%.
A Case for Limiting Conflicts
One million unemployed African youths enter the labor market monthly, and the tendency for them to be won over by the ideologies of extremist groups is high.
The AfCFTA, if well implemented, would no doubt transform conflicts across the continent by reducing the incentives for participating in conflicts, via the creation of jobs.
In fact, most conflicts in Africa are primarily executed by jobless youth, stricken by high levels of poverty. The AfCFTA, through the promotion of more labor-intensive trade, has the potential to produce more jobs for the estimated 30 million African youth who would be entering the jobs market each year after the year 2030.
Additionally, the changes in the income of local populations have a direct influence on the decision to participate in violent conflicts or for violent groups to recruit.
This was proven in the case of Nigeria, where the decision by the federal government to use some of the profit gained through the sale of oil to rehabilitate former militants in the Niger Delta region contributed significantly to reducing conflict in the region.
It is also evident in the case of violent conflicts in the Sahel and the activities of terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab in East Africa.
The AfCFTA, if well implemented, would no doubt transform conflicts across the continent by reducing the incentives for participating in conflicts, via the creation of jobs. But first governments across Africa must be willing to exert the required leadership and political will to bring the AfCFTA to full effect through proper implementation.
Fola Aina is a political scientist and a doctoral fellow at the African Leadership Centre, King’s College London. His areas of research interest include peace and security in Africa, grand strategy, governance for development, and public policy. He can be reached on Twitter via @folanski.
First appeared in The Africa Report.
Photo by Tyck via Iwaria.