By Adziliwi Nematandani
Achieving the objectives of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) demands that the continent pioneers a new and greener path in its drive to industrialise. This is according to the Human Sciences Research Council’s Acting Deputy Chief Executive, Professor Heidi van Rooyen who was speaking at the official opening of the Africa Day celebration event which was held virtually on 25 May 2021.
Van Rooyen underscored the significance of celebrating Africa Day, which marked the 58th year since the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. The OAU was succeeded by the African Union in 2002. She said that although the continent was still seeking unity, peace and development, it was important for African people to celebrate and to recommit themselves to continuing the work.
Focusing on the theme of the day, African Continental Free Trade Area: Opportunities for science, technology and innovation, Van Rooyen said the old pathways were either not available to the African continent or had simply become undesirable.
Trade tariffs are said to be some of the major obstacles hindering intra-Africa trade. Hovering at around 17%, intra-African exports — as a share of total African exports — remain low compared to compared to intra-continental levels in North America, Europe, and Asia. In fact, the rate at which Africa trades with itself is lower than in other continents and regions.
However, the newly signed AfCFTA is expected to boost investments in green intra-African value chains.
“A key challenge as we explore spaces for applying science, technology and innovation is ensuring that human production and consumption of goods and services present minimal adverse environmental degradation,” Van Rooyen said.
The core of innovation is continuous learning and the application of science and technologies to deliver green goods and services, she added.
“Presently, Africa lags behind the world in this endeavour. Similarly, ensuring the continent has an adequate, sustainable and reliable energy supply base is critical for the AfCFTA and for African goods and services to compete favourably in global markets. Innovation is critical towards such an end,” Van Rooyen said.
The main objectives of the AfCFTA are to create a single market for goods and services, facilitate the movement of persons, and promote industrial development and sustainable and inclusive socio-economic growth.
The AfCFTA envisages the gradual elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade on the continent. The agreement sets the path for the elimination of tariffs on 90% of tariff lines.
African Unity for Renaissance conference
The Africa Day event marked the beginning of this year’s African Unity for Renaissance conference, which was held virtually under the theme, “Creating conducive conditions for Africa’s development through science, technology and innovation”, from 26 to 27 May 2021. The conference was organised by the HSRC’s Africa Institute of South Africa in partnership with the Department of Science and Innovation.
Other partners included the African Union Development Agency, Stellenbosch University, the University of South Africa, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the University of the Witwatersrand, the Water Research Commission, the South African Environment Observation Network, the Sam Tambani Research Institute, the Tshwane University of Technology, the South African National Space Agency, and the National Research Foundation.