Africa: You have to see it, touch it, drink it, marry it

Friday November 2 2018

Members of the Pan-African Parliament

Members of the Pan-African Parliament pose for a group photo during the First Ordinary Session of the Fifth Pan-African Parliament in Kigali on October 22, 2018. PHOTO | RWANDA PRESIDENCY 

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
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Rwanda's President Paul Kagame has asked the Pan-African Parliament to help juice up the ratification of the agreement on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The agreement on AfCFTA, which is the world’s largest – but probably poorest – trading bloc, was signed in Kigali earlier in the year.

Despite its promise, it met with cynicism from several people who dismissed it as “another African thing leaders sign up to and then send out to the forest to die.”

Moreover, the Pan-African Parliament is little known on the continent. Part of the explanation for its obscurity is part of the reason why other ambitious pan-African projects like AfCFTA have floundered.

The parliament, with mostly advisory powers, never makes any laws that affect us directly, so we don’t like or hate it.

You rarely read stories of it increasing members’ sitting allowances, or blowing a big chunk of its budget on expensive travel like the East African Community Secretariat was wont to do.

In that sense, becoming AfCFTA ambassadors may be a good vehicle for the Pan-African Parliament to emerge from oblivion, and get to be the staple of regular news.

As AfCFTA slowly fades from the headlines, there have actually been exciting developments around it.

The number of countries that have signed up to it now stands at 48, with South Africa’s inking of the deal being the most significant, as it leaves only Nigeria as a major economy on the continent that hasn’t put pen to paper on the trade pact.

In a few weeks, President Kagame will pass over the mantle of African Union Chairman. So here is a Hail Mary proposal for him on AfCFTA that he can throw out there, or even get Rwanda to run with it.

'AU kibbutz'

He should push the creation of an “AfCFTA Commune” or an “African Union kibbutz” somewhere on the outskirts of Kigali.

It would be a collective where AU ideas and projects are tested. It could be granted the kind of independent status that The Vatican enjoys in Italy, though the Rwanda Police would be in charge of its security. You can’t trust our people too much.

So how would this “AfCFTA Commune” work? It would have 54 “villages,” each comprising two to three homes and offices.

Each of these would be allocated to AfCFTA signatories, and they would then send their nationals as an expedition force to occupy them (and foreign ministers wouldn’t be allowed to send their mistresses or boyfriends there).

These villages would, in revolving fashion, organise cultural events, trade exhibitions and commercial activities mirroring AfCFTA, educational events, discussions of the pan-African project, and of course be allowed to throw noisy parties to liven up things, in a central business district in the commune.

Everyone who travels as part of a country expedition to the commune would be issued with an African passport. The goods coming in and out of the commune would be tax free, and closely monitored, which is why the kibbutz needs to be located in the least corrupt jurisdictions.

Companies who do pan-African business would sponsor these villages: Dangote Cement, Ethiopian Airlines, Ecobank, MultiChoice, Kenya Airways, MTN, and so forth.

This pan-African or AfCFTA experience, some people will only get it if they see it, touch it, drink it, or marry it.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. Twitter@cobbo3