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Successfully establishing an African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is key to fast-tracking intra-Africa trade, boosting Africa’s international competitiveness and amplifying the continent’s voice in global trade negotiations.

The AfCFTA is described as a high ambition trade agreement with a comprehensive scope that includes critical areas of Africa’s economy. Its goal is to boost intra-Africa trade, particularly in value-added production and across all other sectors of Africa’s economy. The AfCFTA is one of the flagship projects of Agenda 2063 – Africa’s blueprint and master plan to transform the continent into a global powerhouse of the future.

And the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance is at the forefront of this work. The school’s director, Professor Faizel Ismail, spoke to UCT News about the importance of establishing an AfCFTA and touched on several programmes instituted by the school to fast-track this work.

Niémah Davids (ND): Highlight the work already under way at the school to support an AfCFTA.

“The school had also established four robust research programmes that align with the goals of the AfCFTA, to help stimulate the development of African-wide regional value chains.”

Faizel Ismail (FI): The Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance has partnered with the AfCFTA secretariat. The school has also established four robust research programmes that align with the goals of the AfCFTA, to help stimulate and develop African-wide regional value chains (RVC). These include:

  • building renewable energy infrastructure while leapfrogging in green manufacturing
  • building cotton, textiles, apparel and retail regional value chains
  • manufacturing vaccines, pharmaceuticals and healthcare technologies
  • developing Africa’s agriculture, agro-processing and food security and addressing climate change adaption.

The school’s research focuses on developing these RVCs and advancing Africa’s industrialisation.  During the pandemic in 2020, 2021 and 2022, we convened numerous research roundtable discussions to fast-track these RVCs and published many policy briefs and summary reports. The school also brought together thought leaders and technical experts from around the continent to brainstorm and develop policy proposals to drive the AfCFTA and stimulate transformative industrialisation.

ND: What progress has been made thus far?

FI: We are leading a continental-wide consultative process to develop a workable strategy for the cotton textiles and apparel RVC. In the pharmaceutical RVC sector, ongoing research and engagement with various stakeholders are taking place and papers on African vaccine manufacturing capacities have also been published. Finally, on the renewable energy side, we are working on a robust research programme that seeks to develop policy proposals on how best to establish alternative energy sources for the continent and how to build a just energy transition.

We also host and convene the AfCFTA Trade and Industrial Development Advisory Council and some of Africa’s most prominent scholars, policymakers and experts serve as members, including UCT’s Professor Caroline Ncube and three of the school’s honorary professors: Carlos Lopes, Arkebe Oqubay and Rob Davies. As a policy advisory group, the council advises the AfCFTA secretariat on various issues that relate to regional integration, industrialisation and trade.

ND: Attaining an AfCFTA is one of the flagship projects of Agenda 2063. What is needed to ensure that the continent reaches this goal?

FI: Agenda 2063 encapsulates not only Africa’s aspirations for the future, but it also identifies key flagship programmes that can boost Africa’s economic growth and development and lead to the continent’s rapid transformation. Thus, the AfCFTA is Africa’s core programme needed to increase intra-African trade, stimulate transformative industrialisation and strengthen Africa’s common voice in international trade negotiations.

ND: What role does the school play in the process?

FI: The school has a huge role to play in this process. In partnership with the AfCFTA secretariat, we are building an AfCFTA Academy to design and deliver capacity-building programmes for African negotiators, policymakers, trade unions, business associations, parliamentarians and other stakeholders. The school works in partnership with other African think tanks, universities and non-governmental organisations to drive a developmental regional integration agenda.

“Convening the AfCFTA Trade and Industrial Development Advisory Council provides the school with an important opportunity to mobilise the most outstanding and experienced African scholars.”

Convening the AfCFTA Trade and Industrial Development Advisory Council provides the school with an important opportunity to mobilise the most outstanding and experienced African scholars, practitioners and experts to build the research, policy and implementation capacity of the AfCFTA and to drive its integration and transformation agenda. This is how the school is contributing to building the next generation of African ethical and strategic leaders.

ND: Relationship building must be cornerstone to all this work?

FI: Most definitely. Our Building Bridges Programme enables the school to maintain its network of over 1 000 alumni and fellows, and to learn from their experiences on the ground as they continue to contribute to the process of change and transformation in over 50 African countries. This programme helps to deepen and expand the school’s relationships with partners and institutions that align with our broader goal, which is to create a more inclusive, democratic and transformed Africa.

Watch this video for more information on the school’s work.

 

FEBRUARY 2023 | STORY NIÉMAH DAVIDS. PHOTO PIXABAY.