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African common market: Path to economic development 

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Sir: The high level of poverty in Africa is absurd and an aberration taking into consideration the enormous natural resources at the disposal of the continent. Africa’s land mass of over 30 million square kilometers  is more than the entire land of USA, China, European Union ( EU) and India put together, whereas the population is less than that of  China or India.  The wealth in mineral and natural resources of the continent are as humongous as the physical size with many firsts in the world. Africa is the world’s largest producer of diamonds, gold, bauxite (aluminum), coltan (columbite and titanium) cocoa, cassava, yam and a major producer of natural rubber, palm oil, coffee, sorghum, millet, bananas, cotton, timber, oil and gas. The land is 70% arable with tropical forests, savannah grasslands and ideal temperatures which range from 15-35 degrees celsius. The continent is not plagued by destructive acts of nature such as typhoons, hurricanes, earthquakes and permafrost winter lands. Despite these idyllic endowments and conditions, the continent is still the least developed in the world.

The problem of Africa lies in the inability of the people to manage these resources to their advantage. The struggle for Africa’s independence was relatively easy, while the fight for economic emancipation was more complicated and daunting because of the  different fiscal, monetary and customs policies inherited by the 53 African countries from colonial administrations. The challenge therefore was how to integrate   these diversified economic systems into one formidable supranational body. The continent was to this effect divided into six regional economic communities, one of which is ECOWAS for West Africa.

The Regional Economic Communities (RECs), after merging their social, fiscal and monetary institutions will form the building blocks of an African Economic Community (AEC) or common market.  This process is ongoing and ECOWAS is the most successful with a common passport, common security organisation (ECOMOG), common parliament, borderless territories,  and such policies which support regional integration. The benefits of an economic union are many, some of which are:

a). A single African currency used by one billion people will be strong  and not likely to fluctuate and easily loose value. It will constitute a formidable foreign exchange payment mechanism of relative strength which will compete with other hard currencies such as, the dollar, Euro, Yen, RMB.
b). an African owned currency will fund industries and infrastructures without external stringent conditionalities.
c). An African Central Bank or monetary fund would manage the indebtedness of member states in a more humane manner,  in contrast to the crippling  conditionalities imposed by current international financial institutions, which hardly favour  social and welfare projects.
d)  job created as a result of these measures would reduce the brain and energy drain of African youths who are migrating abroad.  Nigeria stands to benefit from an African common market or economic union because of the size of its economy and large population. Nigeria’s moribund automobile, textile,  petrochemical, iron and steel industries which sooner or later would  be revived  through private/ public sector partnerships would find ready markets of over 1 billion people. Moreover, Nigeria is politically the most powerful country in Africa, despite the perennial internal squabbles. Nigeria led the struggle for Africa’s political independence, and it should not be found wanting and missing in the ongoing existential economic war on poverty, diseases, unemployment and underdevelopment in the continent. These challenges can be overcome only, if the divergent interests of the continent  are domiciled in a common market.

Ambassador Akinkuolie Rasheed was the director of Trade and Investments, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


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