In a recent research publication titled the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), the objectives and potentials of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) were thoroughly ironed out. From the research, it would seem that African leaders are not ready to implement AfCFTA despite its objectives and potential.

SIIA iterated that the agreement sets forward an ambitious task to liberalize the flow of goods, services, people, and capital across African. The economic gains for the continent, SIIA found, among numerous others would include $16.1 billion in welfare gains; GDP growth of 1 percent to 3 percent; employment growth of 1.2 percent; intra-Africa trade growth of 33 percent; 50 percent reduction in the continent’s trade deficit.

However, prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the AfCFTA was set to launch in June 2020.

Prior to the pandemic, 54 of the 55 AU member states signed the treaty, remaining Eritrea. When it came into force in May 2019, 30 countries ratified the pact, but not all of them have been carrying out its aim. For example, the Nigerian government in August 2019, slapped a ban on the movement of all goods/services from and to countries which it shares land borders with, going against the doctrine of the free market and the provisions of Trade Treaty(ies) to which she is a signatory.

Reports have emerged that the coronavirus pandemic delayed the implementation of the AfCFTA. But in truth, there would have been no better time to test the effectiveness of the AfCFTA than now.

Most measures taken by African leaders at the instance of this pandemic have been devastating to the poorest citizens, especially small-scale entrepreneurs that mostly rely on daily income to feed themselves and their families; in fact, it saddens that these measures betrayed AfCFTA objectives in enabling a smooth economy.

If the AfCFTA is  to establish the largest trade area in the world and offers Africa and its partners an auspicious future, then African countries need to spring to their feet and make this come true: African leaders need to rethink their measures in line with saving lives.

As enunciated in the publication, the primary objective of AfCFTA is to boost intra-African trade and secondly, to harmonise trade arrangements across regional economic communities, then why (now) making the economy not to be smiling when having this instrument? Policies that safe measures should be observed can be channeled out to international traders, innovators. Border closures have not only made people's basic needs not to be met but some people are maneuvering ways to engage in black markets and this indeed, is even causing the spread of the virus.

African leaders need to learn that they can make decisions in implementing AfCFTA, given consideration to the fact that investors, innovators and international traders can either trade remotely or are also ready to beat this pandemic - by observing safe measures.

As exposed by SAIIA's AfCFTA publication, the potentials and opportunities of AfCFTA are not meant only for African countries to have enormous economic and development success, but key importers - particularly, Korea, together with African countries, will have much to gain from increased economic cooperation as both Korea and African continent have much to offer each other. During this time and in line with implementing AfCFTA, the role of African leaders is simple: they need to encourage businesses and individuals to ensure, take the necessary preventative health measures at the instance of their operation.

Postponing AfCFTA implementation due to coronavirus is wrong, for this would cease businesses; stop the economy's breath; and cut veins of international markets. The notion that safety of the people shall be the highest law is wrong as African leaders need to put the economy at the centre of their responses against coronavirus. African leaders need to implement AfCFTA and devise measures that would enable people to beat coronavirus.

Hammed J. Sulaiman is a Writing Fellow at African Liberty and a student of law at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. He tweets via: @IamSBM4u

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