Goodest Leader: September 2020

Félix Tshisekedi

President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, representing the African Union as its Chairman.

The African Union (AU) has been selected as September's Goodest Leader, thanks to its unexpected determination to commit to the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) on January 1st 2021, despite long delays caused by COVID-19.

The AfCTA, originally drafted in 2012, will be the biggest free trade agreement since the establishment of the Word Trade Organisation, and is predicted by both the World Bank and the AU to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty by 2035.

The AfCTA could prove to be a further break from the legacy of colonialism in the African continent. When most states gained their independence in 1961, the primary trading routes were between African countries and European countries or the United States. Even today, intercontinental trade makes up only 10% of the continent’s total trade. According to the AfCTA agreement, 54 of the 55 signatory member states of the African Union are expected to remove tariffs on 90% of goods. The agreement also includes a commitment to tackle non-tariff barriers such as border delays and eventually permit the free movement of goods and people.

David Luke, the African Trade Policy Centre coordinator at UNECA, estimates that the agreement will increase trade by 52% by 2022, with the potential to foster “the right type of trade” that will create incentives to transition from fuel- and agriculturally-dependent economies to manufacturing economies.

In the months leading up to the AfCTA, numerous African States, in particular Nigeria, released statements calling for further delay. The AU however, remained resilient and assured member states that the efficacy of safety protocols would not negatively be affected by the AfCTA. It would provide a much needed economic boost and prepare nations for a prolonged fight against COVID-19. It will still take several years for member states to develop their national policies to fit the objectives of the AfCTA.

Through their actions, the AU have demonstrated that they are taking a more prominent leadership role in the continent than their predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity. The African Union’s commitment to the people’s health and future is a clear example of leadership that demonstrates the principles of the Dual Mandate.