‘Nige­ria, we are wait­ing’ – Ramaphosa

The South African pres­i­dent is call­ing on the West African na­tion to say ‘yes’ to free trade

Mail & Guardian - - Africa - Si­mon Al­li­son

Forty-nine African coun­tries have signed the African Con­ti­nen­tal Free Trade Area agree­ment, but Nige­ria — the con­ti­nent’s largest econ­omy — is not among them. South Africa’s Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa put pen to paper on be­half of his coun­try at the African Union sum­mit in Nouak­chott, Mau­ri­ta­nia, last month and has urged Nige­ria to fol­low suit in a speech de­liv­ered in Abuja this week.

South African of­fi­cials have in­formed the AU that they ex­pect the deal to be rat­i­fied in Par­lia­ment by De­cem­ber this year.

“At the 31st ses­sion of the AU, South Africa joined its coun­ter­parts in sign­ing the agree­ment. To­day I stand here and I say: ‘Nige­ria, no pres­sure,’” said Ramaphosa, tongue in cheek, to ap­plause from the au­di­ence.

Nige­ria’s fed­eral gov­ern­ment has un­der­taken an ex­ten­sive con­sul­ta­tion process with stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments and trade unions, and has said it can­not sign un­til that process has con­cluded.

“You as Nige­ria should also be ap­plauded as you go through the process of con­sult­ing. Take your time, but don’t take too long be­cause the con­ti­nent is wait­ing for Nige­ria and South Africa,” said Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa was speak­ing at the an­nual meet­ing of the African Ex­port-Im­port Bank on Wed­nes­day. He was due to meet Nige­ria’s Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari later in the day.

Mah­moud Isa-Dutse, per­ma­nent sec­re­tary of Nige­ria’s fi­nance min­istry, said the coun­try fully sup­ported the free trade deal. “It’s not that we are not go­ing to sign, it’s just that we are do­ing con­sul­ta­tions. A num­ber of in­ter­est groups raised is­sues, which are be­ing ad­dressed. As you know, this is a ma­jor de­vel­op­ment and there are po­lit­i­cal econ­omy is­sues. Some groups will lose, some groups will win,” he said.

Isa-Dutse elab­o­rated on some of the is­sues faced by his gov­ern­ment: “There will be short-term pains for some groups be­cause when you open up there will be more com­pe­ti­tion and some goods will ar­rive cheaper, which is bet­ter for con­sumers,” he said. “But ex­ist­ing rent seek­ers and high-cost pro­duc­ers will lose … so part of the con­sid­er­a­tion process is to ex­plain these things to peo­ple and en­sure that they un­der­stand that, in the long term, ev­ery­one will be bet­ter off.

“In the long term, it is very clear to us that this free trade agree­ment is in the best in­ter­ests of Nige­ria and the whole con­ti­nent; it’s just to sort out these mi­nor is­sues.”

Al­bert Muchanga, the AU’s trade com­mis­sioner, said six coun­tries had al­ready rat­i­fied the agree­ment, and eight more were ex­pected to rat­ify it in Au­gust. An­other eight coun­tries — in­clud­ing South Africa — have in­di­cated that they will sub­mit the nec­es­sary in­stru­ments of rat­i­fi­ca­tion by year-end.

Twenty-two coun­tries are re­quired to rat­ify the agree­ment be­fore it comes into force.

“A month af­ter we get the last in­stru­ment of rat­i­fi­ca­tion among the 22, the agree­ment comes into force,” said Muchanga. “It is pos­si­ble that, by Jan­uary 31 2019, the agree­ment will come into force.”

Although the agree­ment has been hailed by African lead­ers as a ma­jor step in the con­ti­nent’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, it is still light on ma­jor de­tails about how ex­actly it will be im­ple­mented and the ex­act na­ture of the trade rules it will op­er­ate un­der.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions on thorny sub­jects such as in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights, rules of ori­gin and com­pe­ti­tion reg­u­la­tions are still in progress.

Bal­loons bridge dig­i­tal di­vide

Kenya is work­ing to­wards us­ing Al­pha­bet Inc’s sys­tem of bal­loons to con­nect ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to high-speed in­ter­net ac­cess, ac­cord­ing to the coun­try’s in­for­ma­tion and tech­nol­ogy min­is­ter, Joe Mucheru. The net­work of bal­loons, known as Project Loon, trav­els on the edge of space and “rains” down 4G LTE sig­nals — con­nect­ing peo­ple in ru­ral and re­mote ar­eas. The Kenyan gov­ern­ment hopes that Project Loon will be the so­lu­tion to clos­ing the in­ter­net-ac­cess di­vide.

Shock for sight­seer

A Le­banese tourist, Mona elMazboh, who was ar­rested last month for post­ing a video in which she de­scribed Egypt as a “son-of-a bitch coun­try”, has been sen­tenced to eight years in prison by a Cairo court. In her Facebook video, she com­plained of be­ing a vic­tim of sex­ual ha­rass­ment by taxi driv­ers and poor restau­rant ser­vice. The court found her guilty of spread­ing false ru­mours, at­tack­ing reli­gion and pub­lic in­de­cency.

The world’s old­est colours

An­cient rocks be­neath the Sa­hara desert may hold the world’s old­est sur­viv­ing bi­o­log­i­cal colours. Sci­en­tists from the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity said the 1.1-bil­lion-year-old pig­ments are fos­silised mol­e­cules of chloro­phyll. Ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tists, the colours — bright pink, blood red and deep pur­ple — would have been pro­duced by sea or­gan­isms. The rocks were found a decade ago in a ma­rine shale de­posit in the Taoudeni Basin, Mau­ri­ta­nia, by a min­ing com­pany.

Crush­ing Zim’s land­mines

Zim­babwe still has land­mines that were laid dur­ing the lib­er­a­tion war in the 1970s. Most of the ex­plo­sives are con­cen­trated near the north­ern and east­ern borders of Zim­babwe. They are dif­fi­cult to re­move and are a safety risk, but one com­pany has a plan. Us­ing an ar­moured ma­chine, the Halo mine-clear­ing char­ity is churn­ing up soil in the search for for­got­ten land­mines. The ma­chine’s strength en­ables it to process the soil and crush any land­mines.

Down with so­cial me­dia tax

Op­po­nents of a tax on the use of so­cial me­dia in Uganda protested this week in the cap­i­tal, Kam­pala. The tax, in­tro­duced at the be­gin­ning of the month, re­quires peo­ple to pay 200 Uganda shillings ($0.05) be­fore they can use ser­vices such as Facebook, Twit­ter and What­sApp. The protest was led by MP and pop­u­lar mu­si­cian Robert Kyag­u­lanyi, bet­ter known as Bobi Wine.

It will Biya tough vote

Cameroon is due to hold pres­i­den­tial elec­tions on Oc­to­ber 7, Pres­i­dent Paul Biya con­firmed by de­cree on Mon­day, end­ing spec­u­la­tion about whether polls would go ahead in the vi­o­lence-stricken na­tion. Biya has yet to say whether he will bid for an­other term in of­fice. The 85-year-old is now Africa’s old­est and long­est-serv­ing pres­i­dent, hav­ing come to power in 1982. In 2008, Cameroon’s Par­lia­ment passed a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment al­low­ing Biya to run for an­other term in 2011.

“In the long term, it is very clear to us that this free trade agree­ment is in the best in­ter­ests of Nige­ria and the whole con­ti­nent”

Mak­ing his mark: Pres­i­dent

Cyril Ramaphosa signs the

African Con­ti­nen­tal Free Trade Area agree­ment in Nouak­chott, Mau­ri­ta­nia. Photo: Siyab­ulela Duda/ GCIS

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