Restructuring: How The African Continental Free Trade Agreement Can End The Mediterranean Migrant Crisis

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With Reno Omokri

Take a look at these pictures (here, I showed pictures on the screen of migrants fleeing war and hunger through the Mediterranean in the 1940s). What you see are migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. No, they are not Africans or Asians. Yes, they are Europeans.

And they are trying to crossover from Europe into Africa.
It may surprise some of my hearers and viewers to learn that the Mediterranean Migrant Crisis was not always about Africans and Asians making the treacherous journey into Europe via the Mediterranean.

There actually was a time in history when it was, in fact, Europeans who were desperate to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Africa.
What were these Europeans running away from? They were running away from wars. They were running towards peace. They were running away from hunger. They were running towards food. They were running away from threats. They were running towards opportunity.

Between 1936 and 1945, Europe was destabilised by the Second World War and there was mass migration From Europe to Africa and other parts of the world.
How did the world respond to that?
Europe was in crisis and chaos and the then world power, the United States, knew that if they did not help Europe to recover, the refugee crisis arising from the war and the resultant migrant crisis, would spread to America and end up destabilising them as well.

President Truman officially signed the Marshall Plan into law on April 3, 1948, as a European Recovery Program (ERP). That was America’s solution to the situation in Europe.

In total, America gave Europe $12.4 billion in aid to rebuild. But there was a catch. The Marshall Plan required the beneficiary nations of Europe to restructure their entire continent so that they could work together as one to receive the aid and put it to good use.

Many of us know and celebrate the European Union which has helped unite, stabilise and spread prosperity throughout Europe, although in recent times, some European nations, like Britain, have had a rethink of the Union.

What is lesser known is that it was the Marshall Plan that led to the restructuring of Europe. The Europeans had to work together to address the problems in Europe caused by the Second War and that led to their migrant crisis.
They set up the Committee of European Economic Co-operation in 1948 to help Europe utilise the money they received through the Marshall Plan.

The organisation was so successful in addressing the challenges Europe was facing that the Europeans decided to make it a permanent body.

It was through the Committee of European Economic Co-operation, that the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) was created in 1948. It later became the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1961. These bodies ensured that Europe was restructured.

These were the precursors to the European Union. It was through these vehicles that ideas like Europe wide free trade and free movement of people became solidified.

These bodies insisted that to benefit from the Marshall Fund and later economic aid, their member nations must commit themselves to certain minimum standards which for the sake of time I will summarise as follows.

They had to commit to;
* Democracy
* A Free Market Economy driven by the law of Demand and Supply
* A Peer Review system.
Within a period of just a decade, all of the countries in the initial European Economic Co-operation had overcome the challenges which caused their migration crisis. They had become middle to high-income economies with high Human Development Indexes.

You see, restructuring led to peace and stability. Peace and stability brought with it opportunity and by human nature, you do not migrate away from where peace, stability and opportunity exist.
Now ask yourself what is the current Mediterranean Migrant Crisis about?

Africans are fleeing war, insecurity, poverty and oppression. They are making the treacherous journey through the Sahara Desert, through the Mediterranean Sea, because they believe they would find greener pastures in Europe. They are seeking opportunities that they would not have ordinarily found at home.
So how can Africa address its own Mediterranean Migrant Crisis?

Africa has to do the same thing Europe did with only some slight modifications to adapt that template to suit peculiarities in our own continental environment. We do not have to reinvent a wheel that has already been reinvented.

Continental bodies like the African Union are focused more on political restructuring which in itself is okay. Regional bodies like ECOWAS and SADC are focused on regional integration, which still leaves their parts of Africa vulnerable to stronger blocs outside the continent.

I am of the considered view that what Africa needs is economic restructuring. I want to put a fact out there. In 2014, the entire continent of Africa collectively earned $2.4 billion from coffee grown in Africa and exported mainly to Europe. In that same year, Germany alone earned $3.8 billion from processing the coffee it bought from Africa and re-exporting it to other nations, particularly in Europe!

What is true for coffee is true for cocoa, crude oil, leather and you name it.
Another fact: The EU place a 115.4% tariff on sugar cane from Nigeria. If Nigeria even attempts to refine the sugar cane and sell it as sugar, the tariff jumps to 375.6%. So we are forced to sell to the EU low abs then they can reexport at high prices all over the world.

You see, the economic restructuring of Europe is making it so easy for them to generate and distribute economic prosperity within and amongst European nations.
Africa must do the same.

In the history of Africa, nothing has been as significant in addressing this issue of economic restructuring like the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) which requires signatory nations to remove tariffs from 90% of goods in Africa and to allow free access of people, commodities, goods, and services across the continent.
The UN estimates that the African Continental Free Trade Area will boost Africa’s intercontinental trade by 52% in the first few decades, but I am even more optimistic.

The African Continental Free Trade Area is very important because whereas almost 70% of Europe’s exports were to European nations, the figure for Africa is an abysmal 18%.

Africa has the lowest level of intra-regional trade and what this means is that a lot of our value is going outside the continent.

A month ago, I travelled to nine nations. Six out of the nine are in Africa. I was in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

I needed a visa for each and every one of those nations. Incidentally, while I was in South Africa, I met some Americans and Europeans who had visited some of these nations I had just visited or was about to visit, and they had visa-free access to those nations as well as many others in Africa that I as an African did not have.

Can you imagine what that means for trade and tourism and cultural relations? The way Africa is currently set up, it is easier for Europeans to do business with Africans than for Africans to do business with each other!
If Africa is to become wealthy, if Africa has to provide the opportunities to her people that will act as a disincentive for them to leave the continent, then Africa’s wealth must circulate within the continent of Africa more than it circulates outside Africa.

And on this issue, let me say that I am rather concerned that Nigeria did not join other African nations to sign the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement. I think that is a setback.

One in four Africans is a Nigerian. Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy. Without Nigeria in the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, it will not work!

If I were to counsel the present Nigerian government, I would urge them to think about the huge benefits to Nigeria.

Nigeria stands more to gain from the African Continental Free Trade Area than she stands to lose.
The Nigerian authorities must take cognisance of the fact that in 2018, Nigeria overtook India as the world capital for extreme poverty. To Nigeria’s leaders, I say, desperate times call for desperate remedies.

Once we have this African Continental Free Trade Area in place, Africans will circulate within Africa because there may not be enough in Africa for everyone’s greed, but there is enough on that blessed continent for each African’s need.

Last year, Nigeria imported 17.3 billion litres of gasoline or what in Nigeria is known as petrol, mostly from Asia and the Americas. Nigeria does this because she lacks enough refining capacity.

But there are several African countries that can take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area to build refineries that can refine Nigerian crude and instead of importing from outside Africa, the $7 billion Nigeria spends importing oil can remain in Africa and circulate within her economies.

In fact, not only would the money circulate within Africa, but it would no longer be $7 billion. It would be less expensive because of the African Continental Free Trade Area’s provision for free movement of people, goods and services.

Nigeria would benefit and those other countries will also benefit. A win-win scenario that would increase access to opportunities for Africa.

Africa would then be in a position whereby African nations would only source for things outside the continent if and only if it can’t be found in Africa. The fact is that Africa cannot and should not run away from restructuring. Nigeria should join the rest of the continent.

Africa, as it used to be was not working for Africans. Africans are intelligent people, but Africa was not running intelligently as a continent.

The African Continental Free Trade Area is changing that and Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind or we may soon find that the Mediterranean Migrant Crisis is renamed the Nigerian Migrant Crisis because citizens of other African nations have gone on to prosper because of the ACFTA while Nigeria remains the same. Or even gets worse.

Call to action:
My time is far spent, but here is the thing. Right now, Nigeria is an obstacle to ACFTA. Nigeria is resisting restructuring internally and continentally. You and I know that restructuring is not an option, it is a necessity.
So in electing leaders, whether it is for the Presidency or for parliament or for local elections, if you want Nigeria to grow, if you want opportunities to come to Nigeria and Africa, if you want to end the African Migrant Crisis, only vote for leaders with a commitment to and a track record of supporting restructuring, democracy and free markets.
You might consider that a small act, but never underestimate the big difference small changes can make.

Reno Omokri
Bestselling author of Facts Versus Fiction: The True Story of the Jonathan Years, and other books. Avid traveller. Tormentor of the APC.