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AfCFTA: Utekelezwaji wa makubaliano ya biashara huru ya bara Afrika ni kichocheo bora kwa chumi za baada COVID-19

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AfCFTA: Utekelezwaji wa makubaliano ya biashara huru ya bara Afrika ni kichocheo bora kwa chumi za baada COVID-19

-Wamkele Mene, Katibu Mkuu, Idara ya Usimamizi wa Soko Huru la Bara Afrika (AfCFTA)
Kingsley Ighobor
Afrika Upya: 
15 May 2020
-Wamkele Mene, Secretary General, African Continental Free Trade Area  Secretariat (AfCFTA)
-Wamkele Mene, Katibu Mkuu, Idara ya Usimamizi wa Soko Huru la Bara Afrika (AfCFTA)

Wamkele Mene aliteuliwa Katibu Mkuu wa Idara ya Usimamizi wa Soko Huru la Bara Afrika hivi maajuzi. Biashara huru kwa mataifa yaliyoidhinisha makubaliano hayo haiwezi kuanza tarehe 1 mwezi wa Julai 2020 kama ilivyopangwa awali kwa sababu ya athari za COVID-19. Katika mahojiano haya na Kingsley Ighobor wa AfrikaUpya, Bwana Mene anaeleza mwelekeo, na namna ongezeko la biashara kati ya nchi za Afrika linavyoweza kuinua chumi baada ya COVID-19. Hapa kuna madondoo:

Fafanua athari ya COVID-19 kwa AfCFTA kufikia sasa?

Uchumi wa Afrika ulitarajiwa kukua kwa takriban 3.4 % mwaka wa 2019 na ukatarajiwa kuongezeka hadi 3.9% mwaka wa 2020, lakini COVID-19 imekuwa na athari mbaya. Tunajua 53% ya bidhaa za Afrika huuzwa katika mataifa mengine, hasa ya Bara Uropa, ambayo pia yanakabiliwa na janga hili. Hilo limeathiri masoko yetu ya nje. Sekta ya huduma inatarajiwa kuanguka kwa kati ya 20% na 30%, hasa sekta ya usafiri na hoteli. Ni sharti tutafute mbinu za kupunguza makali ya athari za janga hili, lakini msistizo kwa sasa uko katika kuokoa maisha.

Kwa kuzingatia hali hii, una wazo lolote kuhusu lini biashara inaweza kuanza?

Tumelipendekezea Baraza la AU la Viongozi wa Mataifa, ambalo lina mamlaka ya kuchelewesha tarehe ya kuanza biashara, kwamba kwa kuzingatia hali ya hatari katika afya ya umma na haja ya kuikamilisha shughuli fulani ya kiufundi, hatuwezi kufanya biashara vyema kuanzia tarehe 1Julai [chini ya AfCFTA].

Je, hiili lina maana kwamba biashara huru haitaanza mpaka janga hili lishindwe?

Tunachunguza njia nyinginezo za kuiendeleza kazi yetu ya kiufundi ikiwa janga hili litaendelea. Majadiliano ya kibiashara ni ya kiufundi mno. Tunajadiliana kwa lugha nne (Kiingereza, Kifaransa, Kiarabu na Kireno). Ni sharti tuweke mipango huku tukitilia maanani tofauti za saa katika mataifa tofauti barani. Aidha kuna haja ya ufaragha. Haya yote yanastahili kuzingatiwa kabla ya kuendelea na majadiliano kwa njia ya mtandao. Tunatamani kurejea kazini pindi janga hili litakapodhibitiwa. Lakini ikiwa, kwa vyovyote vile, janga hili litaendelea, jambo ambalo tunatumai halitatokea, tunachunguza njia nyingine za kuendeleza majadiliano yetu.

Janga hili linaweza kuziangamiza chumi za Afrika. Mtaurejelea vipi mwendo?

Tuna nyenzo za muda mfupi na za muda mrefu. Wenzo wa muda mfupi ni kwamba Viongozi wa Mataifa yetu walikubali kuanzisha shoroba za kibiashara kuwezesha usafirishaji wa ‘bidhaa muhimu’ kama zinavyotajwa na Vituo vya Kudhibiti na Kuzuia Magonjwa (Africa ADC) vya Umoja wa Afrika au bidhaa za kuua viini vya maradhi kama sabuni ambazo ni muhimu katika kulikabili janga hili. Bidhaa hizi zinapewa kipaumbele kusafirishwa kupitia mipaka ya nchi, hasa katika nchi zisizo na bandari. Pili, mawaziri wa biashara wa Afrika wanachunguza uwezekano wa kupunguza ushuru wa forodhani kwa hizi bidhaa muhimu ili ziwe nafuu na ziweze kuwafikia wananchi. Hii ni hatua ya muda mfupi.

Kama hatua ya muda mrefu, tunaonelea kwamba kuongeza kasi ya maendeleo ya viwanda ni muhimu katika kupanga upya mikondo ya ugavi, kuanzisha mikondo ya thamani ya kieneo ya bidhaa mbali na kuongeza utengenezaji wa bidhaa muhimu zilizoongezwa thamani.

Hataza zetu zinahakikiwa upya ili kubainisha ni kwa kiasi gani mifumo ya hataza inawezesha Afrika kuwa na kiwanda ainasafu cha dawa ili kuhakikisha kwamba tuna huduma nafuu za kiafya.

Hatimaye, tunayaangalia makubaliano yenyewe ya AfCFTA. Mataifa mengi barani Afrika hayana sera ya kifedha, sera ya hazina za kiserikali kutoa dhamana ya matrilioni ya dola ili kufufua uchumi. Kwa hivyo, kwa bara Afrika, kichocheo cha kiuchumi ni mpango wenyewe wa AfCFTA, utekelezwaji wa makubaliano haya. Ongezeko la biashara kati ya mataifa ya Afrika ndilo litakaloendesha maendeleo ya kiuchumi katika kipindi baada ya COVID-19.

Soko huru katika bara Afrika lilitarajiwa kuongeza biashara kati ya mataifa ya Afrika kutoka 18% hadi 50% katika kipindi fulani cha wakati. Je, ratiba yenu ya awali bado i halali?

Tunalenga kufikia 50% ya biashara kati ya nchi za Afrika kati ya sasa na mwaka wa 2030. Ni muda mfupi sana uliosalia. Mbali na COVID-19, kufikia biashara kati ya mataifa ya Afrika na tunatumai zaidi, kunategemea uwezo wetu kuongeza kasi ya mikondo ya thamani ya kieneo ya bidhaa, jinsi ya kutekeleza pamoja na kasi ya kutekeleza makubaliano hayo.

Je, janga la COVID-19 litayahimiza au litayatamausha zaidi mataifa 20 ambayo hayajaidhinisha AfCFTA kufanya hivyo?

Tunatumai kwamba litayahimiza kuyaidhinisha makubaliano. Mataifa yanahitaji vichocheo vya kiuchumi katika nyakati za hatari kama hii ambayo haijawahi kushuhudiwa pamoja na nyenzo za kibiashara kama makubaliano haya ili kuongeza kasi ya kufufua uchumi. Mataifa yaliyo nje ya makubaliano haya, bila shaka, hayatanufaika na biashara huru. Nafikiria kwamba mataifa ambayo hayajayaidhinisha makubaliano haya yanashiriki majadiliano ya mashauriano na michakato nyumbani. Kwa hivyo, ninatumai kwamba yatayaangalia makubaliano haya kwa mtazamo chanya mno. Baraza la Viongozi wa Mataifa wa AU linayahimiza mataifa yote kuyaidhinisha makubaliano haya.

Je, kuna wasiwasi kwamba janga hili linaweza kuyafanya baadhi ya mataifa kuchukua sera za kujikinga?

AfCFTA inaweka mppango kwa mataifa kuchukua hatua za muda mfupi kulinda au kuendeleza afya ya umma katika nyakati za hatari. Kazi yetu kama Idara ya Usimamizi itakuwa kuhakikisha kwamba palipo na hatua zilizosababisha ulinzi, na ambazo hazitimizi mahitaji ya afya ya umma, kwamba hizo hatua zinaondolewa. Haya ndiyo makubaliano ya kwanza kabisa ya kibiashara kuidhinishwa upesi katika Umoja wa Afrika kwa kuwa mataifa yanatambua umuhimu wa soko jumuishi badala ya kujitenga kiuchumi.

Umesema kwamba biashara ya kidijitali ndio mkondo mpya barani Afrika. Kwa kuwa biashara nyingi barani hufanywa kwa njia zisizo rasmi, ikifanywa hasa na wanawake, biashara ya kidijitali itakuwaje?

Biashara ya kidijitali inawezekana kwa simu zinazowezesha kufikia masoko ya mbali. Afrika ina moja kati ya viwango vya kasi vya upenyezi wa simu. Ni suala la kuimarisha ubunifu wa kiteknolojia ambao tayari upo.

Pili, hata katika mataifa ambayo wanawake wafanyabiashara wanahusika sana na wanachangia pakubwa kwa uchumi — hapa ninawaza kuhusu Kenya, Nijeria na mataifa yaliyo na majirani wengi — kuna mifano ya wanawake katika bishara isiyo rasmi wanaotumia rununu kufanya biashara. Kwa hivyo, tunataka kuanzisha mazingira yanayohitajika ya kudhibiti, mfumo wa kisheria au kumbi, kwa mfano, kwa biashara kuendelea kudhibitiwa. Aidha tunastahili kuwezesha idara zetu za forodha kidijitali ili kuzifanya kufanya kazi zao bila shida kote Afrika.

Je, kuna mipango yoyote ya kunasa makini na ubunifu wa vijana na kuwashirikisha?

Ni lazima vijana Waafrika na wanawake wafanyabiashara wanufaike na utekelezwaji wa makubaliano haya, la sivyo yatakuwa yamefeli. Kama yatayanufaisha tu mashirika makuu ya kibiashara za kimataifa yaliyo barani Afrika, yatakuwa yamefeli. Tutaunda kumbi za kuwashirikisha vijana na wanawake walio katika biashara. Hatuna masuluhisho yote. Tunajua kwamba ukienda mjini Kigali utawapata wahandisi wa programu za tarakilishi katika msitari wa mbele katika ubunifu, katika mashirika yanayotumia ubunifu wa kiteknolojia kutoa huduma za kifedha, na nyinginezo. Jukumu letu ni kuweka mazingira bora ya mfumo wa kisheria katika muktadha AfCFTA ili vijana wanufaike kutokana na makubaliano haya, huku wakiimariishana kimawazo.

Je, unayahimiza mataifa kuwahamasisha vijana Waafrikaa wengi ambao hawafahamu kuwepo kwa AfCFTA kuhusu malengo yake mazuri?

Zitakuwa juhudi bia kati ya Idara ya Usimamizi na mataifa husika. Tutafanya shughuli za utetezi na kuwafikia ili kuwahamasisha. Idara ya usimamizi imekuwepo kwa muda wa mwezi mmoja pekee. Tunathamini sana utetezi na uhamasishaji. Tutahusisha kila moja kati ya maeneo matano ya Afrika. Tutakuwa na mipango ya utetezi na uhamasishaji. Tutachangia juhudi za serikali kuu za mataifa husika kutoa hamasisho kuhusu manufaa ya makubaliano haya, hatari zake, kwa kuwa kuna hatari, na kushauri jamii—vijana, wanawake wanaofanya biashara—namna ya kunufaika na makubaliano haya.

Je, unayakataza mataifa kuingia katika mikataba ya kibiashara inayohusu mataifa mawili?

Katika makubaliano haya, mataifa yanaweza yanaweza kufanya makubaliano na nchi nyingine nje ya makubaliano haya muradi tu yayape mataifa ya Afrika mazingira kama hayo ambayo yanatoa kwa mataifa ya nje ya Afrika au bora. Kwa hivyo, kulingana na sheria ya AfCFTA, inakubalika. Lakini kama lengo la kujumuisha na kuimarisha masoko yetu, tunatamani mataifa yajizuie kufanya hivyo.

Je, kwa maoni yako, ufanisi ni nini?

Katika kipindi cha muda mfupi, ufanisi ni kuwa na asasi inayotekeleza majukumu yake barabara. Kuunda idara ya usimamzi ya mataifa 55 si rahisi. Kuunda mwafaka wa kutatua mizozo ni muhimu kuwaashiria wawekezaji wa Afrika kwamba wanastahili kuliamini soko. Kutekeleza mwafaka unaoaminika wa kutatua mizozo kutakuwa ufanisi wa muda mfupi. Muda mrefu, kuhusu maendeeo ya kiviwanda, kuwa na mikondo ya thamani katika sekta zinazopewa kipaumbele , maeneo muhimu, kama ya uzalishaji wa maua na matunda pamoja na magari ambazo zitaathiri ubunaji wa nafasi za ajira moja kwa moja na ukuaji wa uchumi.

Ni upi ujumbe wako kwa wawekezaji watarajiwa na wafanyabiashara walio nje ya Afrika?

Ujumbe wangu ni kuwa tumefanya makubaliano kuhusu soko moja — kutoka Misri hadi Afrika Kusini, kutoka Senegal hadi Djibouti — lenye watu bilioni1.2 na pato jumuishi la kitaifa la Dola trilioni 2.5; tuna watu wachanga na tabaka la kati linalokua lenye uwezo wa kiununuzi unaoendelea kukua. Wawekezaji wataweza kufanya biashara kwa kuzingatia mfumo mmoja wa sheria kote barani Afrika. Wawekezaji watapata faida ya kuzalisha kwa wingi (economies of scale) na kulishinda tatizo la soko iliyogawika.

Ujumbe wako ni upi kwa Waafrika walio katika bara hili na wale walio nje ya bara hili?

Ninadhani Waafrika wote wanayaona makubaliano haya, mimi nikiwa mmoja wao, bila shaka, kama fursa ya kuufunua ukurasa mpya katika maendeleo ya kiuchumi ya Afrika, katika mwelekeo wa ukuaji. Ninadhani kwamba Afrika haijawahi kuwa na fursa kuu kama hii kama tuliyo nayo sasa tangu mwisho wa kipindi cha ukoloni.

Ninafahamu matarajio makubwa ambayo Waafrika wote waliyonayo kuhusu idara hii ya usimamizi. Ujumbe ni uleule: Tunataka makubaliano haya kufaulu kwa manufaa ya Afrika, na tunayataka kuwa na athari kwa mwelekeo wa muda mrefu wa ukuaji na maendeleo ya kiuchumi ya Afrika. Watu wanafahamu kwamba hayatatokea mara moja, lakini kinachoshangiliwa ni kwamba Afrika inapiga hatua kwa kasi kuelekea kwa soko jumuishi

Ninataka kuwaambia wenye shauku kwamba tutayatekeleza makubaliano haya. Haya yatakuwa kielelezo king’aacho kuhusu namna makubaliano ya kiuchumi yanaweza kujadiliwa kiasi kwamba yanavijumuisha vikundi vilivyowahi kuwachwa nyuma awali katika jamii. Tunadhamiria kuhakikisha kwamba mataifa yote: makubwa na madogo yananufaika kutokana na makubaliano haya.

The pandemic could potentially decimate African economies. How will you regain momentum?

We have short and long-term tools. A short-term tool is that our Heads of State agreed to establish trade corridors to enable the transit of what the African Union Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) refers to as “essential goods” or germ-killing products such as soaps that are essential to combat the pandemic. These products get priority transit through the borders, particularly in landlocked countries. Second, the African ministers of trade are exploring the possibility of reducing duties on these essential products so that they become affordable and accessible to people. This is a temporary measure.

In the long-term, it is our view that accelerating Africa's industrial development is very important for reconfiguring our supply chains, establishing regional value chains and boosting the manufacturing of essential value-added products.

There is a review of our intellectual property rights; the extent to which our intellectual property regimes enable Africa to have a generic drug industry to ensure that we have access to affordable healthcare.

Finally, we are looking at the actual AfCFTA agreement. Many countries in Africa do not have the monetary policy space, the fiscal policy space to provide large bailouts in the trillions of dollars for economic recovery. Therefore, for Africa, the stimulus package is the actual AfCFTA, the implementation of this agreement. Increased intra-African trade is what will drive economic development post-COVID-19.

Free trade in Africa was expected to boost intra-African trade from 18% to about 50% within a given timeframe. Is your original timetable still valid?

We have an objective of reaching 50% intra-African trade between now and the year 2030. There is not much time remaining. Apart from COVID-19, reaching 50% intra-African trade, and hopefully above that, depends on our capacity to accelerate regional value chains and the manner and pace in which we implement the agreement.

Will COVID-19 encourage or discourage the more than 20 countries that have not ratified the AfCFTA from doing so?

We hope it encourages them to ratify the agreement. Governments need a stimulus package in a time of an unprecedented crisis as well as tools of trade such as this agreement to accelerate economic recovery. Countries that are outside of the agreement, of course, will not enjoy the benefits of liberalized trade. I think the countries that have not yet ratified are engaged in domestic consultations and processes. So, I would hope that they will look at it very, very positively. The AU Assembly of Heads of State encourages all countries to ratify the agreement.

Are there fears that the pandemic could lead some countries to adopt protectionist policies?

The AfCFTA makes provisions for countries to take temporary measures to protect or advance public health in times of crisis. Our job as the Secretariat will be to ensure that where there are measures in place that have created protectionism, and where they do not meet the necessity for public health, that those measures are removed. So, it will be our job to undertake that monitoring function. This has been the fastest ratified trade agreement in the African Union because countries recognize the importance of an integrated market as opposed to isolationism and autarky.

You have said that digital trade is the next big thing in Africa. Given that most trading in Africa is informal, mostly carried out by women, how does digital trade fit in?

Digital trade is possible by mobile phones that enable access to distant markets. Africa has one of the fastest-growing mobile phone penetration rates. It is a question of leveraging technological innovations that already exist for trading.

Secondly, even in countries where women traders are most active and contribute significantly to the economy—I am thinking here of Kenya, Nigeria and other countries that have many neighbours—there are examples of women in informal trade who use mobile telephones for trading. So, we seek to establish the requisite regulatory environment, legal architecture or platforms, for example, for trade to be further harnessed. Also, we need to digitize our customs capabilities to make them seamless across the continent.

Are there any plans to capture the imagination and innovation of young people and bring them on board?

Young Africans and women traders must benefit from the implementation of this agreement, otherwise it will have failed. If it benefits only the big multinational corporations in Africa, it will have failed. We are going to create a platform for engaging young Africans and women in trade. We don't have all the answers. We know that if you go to Kigali, you will find young African software engineers at the forefront of innovation, for fin-tech, and so on. Our role is to establish conducive regulatory frameworks within the context of the AfCFTA for young people to benefit from the agreement, leveraging their ideas.

Do you encourage countries to sensitize young Africans many of whom may not be aware of AfCFTA’s lofty goals?

It will be a joint effort between the Secretariat and the individual countries. We will perform advocacy and outreach functions. The Secretariat is only one month old. We take advocacy and awareness raising very seriously. We will engage each of the five regions of Africa. We will have regional outreach and advocacy programs. We will complement the efforts of national governments to raise awareness of the benefits of the agreement, the potential risks, because there are risks, and advise populations—young people, women in trade—on how to take advantage of this agreement.

Do you discourage countries from entering into bilateral trade agreements?

Under the agreement, countries can enter into agreements with third parties provided they give African countries similar or better treatment than they are giving to the third party. So, in terms of AfCFTA law, it is allowed. But as a political objective of integrating and consolidating our market first, it is obviously desirable that countries desist from doing so.

What's your idea of success?

In the short term, success is having an institution that functions smoothly. Building a Secretariat of 55 countries is not easy. Establishing a dispute settlement mechanism is important to signal to African investors that they should have confidence in the market. Operationalizing a credible dispute settlement mechanism will be a short-term success. In the long term, on industrial development, having value chains in priority sectors, critical areas, such as agro-processing and automobiles that would directly impact job creation and economic growth.

What is your message to potential investors and traders outside of Africa?

My message is that we have established an agreement for a single market—from Egypt to South Africa, from Senegal to Djibouti—of 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP of over $2.5 trillion; we have a young African population and a growing middle class whose purchasing power is increasing. Investors will be able to do business on a single set of trade and investment rules across the African continent. Investors will achieve economies of scale and overcome the challenges of market fragmentation

What is your message to Africans across the continent and in the diaspora?

I think all Africans see this, including myself, of course, as an opportunity to turn a new page on Africa's economic development, on Africa's growth trajectory. I think that since the end of colonialism, Africa has not had such a big opportunity as we do now.

I am very conscious of the very high expectations that all Africans have of this Secretariat. The theme is the same:  We want this to succeed for Africa, and we want this to have an impact on Africa’s long-term trajectory of growth and economic development. People know that it is not going to happen overnight but what is being celebrated is that Africa is moving rapidly toward an integrated market.

 I want to tell the doubting Thomases that we will implement the agreement. This will be a shining example of how a trade agreement is negotiated in that it takes on board the segments of society that have been left behind before. We are determined to ensure that the biggest and the smallest countries benefit from this agreement.