The year 2021 marks the 19th anniversary of the transformation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU). All African nations have attained political independence and focus on the agenda of economic emancipation and sustainable development.
By celebrating her rich heritage and culture, Africa allows the world to have a glimpse of its diversity and cultural wealth that makes it a great continent that values people-to-people linkages.
Committed to the creation of a strong continental economy, more than 40 African countries signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) agreement in 2018 entering into force in the 1st January 2021. The Free Trade agreement paved the way to a fully integrated Pan-African economy, where goods and services move freely. The potential of the agreement is enormous because it boasts of a market of 1.2 billion people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of $2.5 trillion across the Member States of the African Union. Hence, the AFCFTA ambitions to increase Intra-Africa trade by 52 per cent as there are signs showing that it will be the world’s largest Free Trade Area, in terms of participating countries since the formation of the World Trade Organisation.
Therefore, this consolidation of African nations into one Free Trade Area will drive the structural transformation of Africa’s economies while providing great opportunities for trading enterprises, businesses and consumers across Africa and a chance to support sustainable development in the whole region. We wish to encourage Australia to take advantage of the numerous opportunities availed by the new Free Trade Area. Such opportunities for mutual benefit are provided by sectors including infrastructure, renewable energy, information technology, services and tourism.
Today, we have over 200 Australian companies investing over 40 billion dollars in 700 projects around Africa, mainly in the extractive sector. They have indeed laid claim to Africa’s vast riches that account for 30 percent of the world’s natural resources. Some estimates have placed the value of discoveries by Australian companies at over 3 trillion dollars. The extraction of Africa’s resources can create win-win situations, thus strengthening further the already existing good relations between the two continents.
The elephant in the room – COVID-19 pandemic
The African Continent has not been spared from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. African countries have had to divert resources that were allocated in principle to other sectors to strengthen their health systems, in order to ensure the protection of their people.
Hence, the African Union established, in August 2020, the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team to ensure that the continent had access to vaccine supplies from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Therefore, the African Union signed a historic agreement, on the 28th of March 2021, with Johnson & Johnson for 400 million doses of COVID-19 Vaccines. The vaccines will be made available to African countries through the African Medical Supplies Platform, over a period of 18 months. Africa is also set to receive about 600 million vaccine doses via the COVAX facility.
African Arts, Culture and Diversity
Within the vast space of Africa, people of many different cultures, languages, and religions co-habit. Over the centuries, inhabitants have intertwined their cultural norms with the environment. No doubt, there are sharp regional differences emanating from the multitudes of peoples with their own diversities within the continent. Nonetheless, all Africans share traits and traditions that visitors may encounter across the continent.
In addition, African societies attach a vital importance to the concept of extended family and the importance of maintaining the intergenerational family ties. The latter provide Africans with a sense of security and belonging. These principles are also engraved in the African arts, music, and oral literature. The rich and diverse African Arts include crafts, pottery, paintings, jewellery and weaving. It reflects the customs and traditions of each group.
Australia’s great contribution and support to the African continent dates back to its great contribution and support to African decolonisation. We commend Australia for taking giant leaps in contributing to humanitarian efforts across Africa. The African continent has benefitted tremendously in the areas of water sanitation and reticulation, community–based micro-economic projects, gender and youth development activities, capacity building programmes and other training programmes, to say the least. Progressively, Australia has also made its mark on the African development agenda through the huge investments into Africa’s mining sector.
The strong people-to-people relations between Africa and Australia are evident in the large number of African professionals working in Australia as well as students studying in Australian institutions of learning. This has indeed led to greater understanding between the two continents in terms of cultures and awareness of each other. We also acknowledge the contribution of the African Diaspora community in Australia and thank them for their contribution to the economy as well as to the strengthening of Africa-Australia relations.
May Africa prosper!
(Ambassador Karim Medrek is also Dean of the African Diplomatic Group in Canberra)