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Will Africa’s new free-trade dream be crushed by corruption?

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was adopted in Kigali, Rwanda on March 21, 2018 by 41 African countries to create a single market for goods, services, and facilitated cross-border labor movement to deepen the economic integration of the African continent.

The AfCFTA will bring together all 55 member states of the African Union covering a market of more than 1.2 billion people and combined GDP of more than $3.4 trillion.

In accordance with the Pan African Vision of “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa” enshrined in Agenda 2063, AfCFTA also hopes to create a liberalized market for goods and services, the movement of capital and people to facilitate investments building on the initiatives and developments, laying the foundation for the establishment of a Continental Customs Union to enhance the competitiveness of the economies of African countries within the continent and the global market.

Africa countries are among most corrupt countries and AfCFTA does not have anti-corruption provisions to promote integrity in customs and trade practices. According to the TI CPI (2018) and World Bank on Control of Corruption (2017), 48 out of 54 African countries score below 50 percent and 14 out of 52 score below 50 percent respectively.

These rankings confirm the depth and scale of Africa’s problem with corruption. So, as African companies find themselves trying to compete in deeply corrupt national and regional markets, it’s understandable why many would be reluctant to establish anti-corruption measures.

Moreover, regional efforts to combat corruption have lagged. The African Union Advisory Board On Corruption is mandated to promote and encourage the adoption of measures and actions by countries to prevent, detect, punish, and eradicate corruption in Africa. However, the African Union Advisory Board On Corruption only employs two technical staff in charge of monitoring and implementing procedures.

Although Africa declared July 11 as Africa Anti-Corruption Day in 2017, there haven’t been any serious measures taken and implemented to promote the corruption-free environment needed to facilitate the the AfCFTA.

Because the political will to combat corruption seems lacking, many African businesses that are key players in the AfCFTA haven’t put serious anti-corruption efforts on the agenda.

In the West, companies have dozens of different jobs within an organization to promote anti-corruption and compliance efforts. Browsing through the FCPA Blog Job Board you can see the variety of positions offered.

In contrast, in Rwanda (and Africa in general) many big companies simply don’t have departments or positions to deal with corruption and to promote integrity.

The AfCFTA is an excellent agreement that could boost trade and economic growth while strengthen integration among African countries. But it will be hampered by corruption if nothing done.

It is up to the African Union to include robust anti-corruption provisions and improve how it monitors its members for the AfCFTA to truly succeed.


Patrick Bizimana, pictured above, is a student of IACA Master’s in Anti-Corruption Studies, and holder of Master’s in Business Law. He has worked with the Office of the Ombudsman Rwanda (the Anti-Corruption Agency) for nine years and is an Assistant Lecturer at Adventist University of Central Africa. He can be contacted here

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1 Comment

  1. Nice article.

    Pacific Asian countries are also in similar state, as far as extent of corruption is considered. But slowly, people are realising the cancer of corruption. The democratic forces are swaying the trend slowly towards cleaner politics. This will lead to cleaner business practices also.

    Let's be optimistic about a brighter future for Afro Asian countries.

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