by Mildred Thabane – strategic communications advisor

It has been challenging for Africa to shed its old image and take its rightful place as the continent to watch. For decades, the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative touted the continent as the next global powerhouse, thanks to its natural resource richness, as well as its young and vibrant population looking to maximise on globalisation. Sadly, for three decades Africa has not quite come to the party. 

This year has started on a different note. A hopeful, energised and more concerted note of not just talking the talk but walking the walk.

It started on 1 January, when trading under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), the ambitious continent-wide free trade agreement which has been signed by 54 of Africa’s 55 states officially began, despite a 2020 ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new market created under the AfCFTA is estimated to be as large as 1.3 billion people across Africa, with a combined GDP of $3.4 trillion and a potential to lift as many as 30 million Africans out of extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.

The AfCFTA is expected to boost intra-African trade, promote industrialisation, create jobs, and improve competitiveness of African industries on the global stage.

AfCFTA is also the realisation of one of the flagship projects of Agenda 2063 – the continent-wide policy roadmap that includes among its objectives “inclusive growth and sustainable development” and an “integrated continent.”

The 55-nation African Union is also setting up a fund to finance the construction of much-needed roads, railways, and power plants on the continent, and will raise the cash from sovereign wealth funds, insurance and retirement funds in countries like South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, Morocco, Egypt and Kenya, bucking the past trend of dependence on wealthy donor nations and borrowing from financial markets.

With an estimated annual infrastructure financing deficit of $90 billion, it is hard for the body to advance its goal of integrating the disparate individual markets into a single, free trade area.

Africa’s time is now

In February 2021, another two announcements were made that further solidified Africa’s bold moves on the world stage – creating a further positive narrative for the continent and its reputation.

On 15 February, Dr. Ngozi Okojo-Iweala, Nigerian economist and international development expert, was appointed as Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Her term will begin on 1 March 2021 and she will become the first woman and the first African to hold the office.

Makhtar Sop Diop, a Senegalese economist and politician, who has served as Minister of Finance and Economy in the second government of Moustapha Niasse, under President Abdoulaye Wade, was appointed as the Managing Director of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) on 18 February. Making him the first African to hold the position.

Having Africans in decision-making roles in such prominent multilateral institutions is a very important development for the world, and for Africa.

Moreover, with leaders such as Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown in Sierra Leone and listed on TIME 2021 Next 100 Most Influential People in the World and Antoinette Monsio Sayeh, Liberian economist and Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since 2020, it is hard not to be optimistic about what Africa can achieve in the coming decades.

Of course, the challenges remain, but there seems to be a renewed focus and zeal to use our intellect and ingenuity to collectively lift ourselves out of poverty.