African leaders agreed on Wednesday to form a $3 trillion continental free-trade zone encompassing 1.2 billion people, but its two biggest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, did not sign up, diminishing its impact.
With a possible combined population of approximately 1.2 billion and a land area of approximately 18.47 million square kilometres, possibly a total of 26 member states, vast natural resources, huge market, and approximately a combined gross domestic product of US$ $3 trillion; the African Free Trade Zone (AFTZ) could rival any other regional economic community, the European Union (EU) included, if it actualizes its potentials and becomes a truly integrated economic bloc.
The proposed African Free Trade Zone (AFTZ) would have to contend with several political differences which include the differences in the development ideologies of member states, and their fear of compromising their sovereignty or control over their territories.
More importantly, the proposed African Free Trade Zone (AFTZ) would have to deal with the subnational centrifugal tendencies like conflicts, crises, violence, ethnic nationalism, religious intolerance and ultimately civil wars.
It suffices to say that the proposed African Free Trade Area is a crisis region where internal centrifugal forces of subnationalism and other forms of conflicts are ravaging the region. It is obvious therefore that the internal centrifugal tendencies and wars between the proposed AFTZ member states are the greatest challenge, the proposed AFTZ would have to deal with, and it dwindles whatever prospects it has, and could indeed, preempt it.
African leaders should seriously commence with the task of national integration, nation-building and national development beyond rhetoric, and as such, as a strategy of eventually achieving regional integration in Africa. African leaders should desist from divisive politics of divide and rule or balkanization and disintegrative nationalism; and work towards unleashing and synergizing the collective energies of their people towards transforming the abundant and strategic mineral resources in their territories into manufactured goods necessary for diversifying their economies from the present rentierism needed for transforming their current dependency on the industrialized countries of the West and their neo-colonial influences into relations of interdependency.
If they must relate with themselves since they enjoy all the fanfare, pomp and pageantries that are associated with it, it will be better to float a regional security organization that will assist in the addressing the national questions that result to civil wars or strife and resolving inter-AFTZ state wars.