Fifty African countries have signed at least one of the three proposed legal instruments which are set to open the borders to make the continent the largest trading bloc in the world.
It was a historic moment on Tuesday as leaders from 44 of the 55 African Union member states appended their signatures on the Continental Free Trade area (AfCFTA) agreement.
President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, who has been dubbed the champion of the free trade deal across the continent, was the first to sign on behalf of his country, followed by President Paul Kagame who is the current Chairperson of the African Union.
Three hours later, 44 countries had signed the AfCFTA, 43 signed the Kigali declaration and 27 countries agreed to ease mobility of people across the continent by signing the protocol on movement of people across Africa.
Some countries signed all the three legal instruments at once but 50 countries signed at least one of the three documents which, according to Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, was way beyond what they expected.
According to Mahamat, the agreement goes beyond opening borders for business but gives Africans a sense of belonging.
“It is important that Africans stop being foreigners on their own continent while others freely circulate there,” he said.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 10th Extraordinary Summit of African Union, Kagame noted that the signing of the agreements, expresses unity in moving the continent forward.
He added: “The promise of free trade and free movement is prosperity for all Africans, because we are prioritising the production of value-added goods and services that are “Made in Africa” he said.
The Chairperson of the Private Sector Federation, Robert Bafakulera, told The New Times that the deal will certainly open up wider market from region producers and manufacturers hence creating competitiveness.
“This means growth of Africa, growth of our countries and unity in Africa,” Bafakulera said.
11 countries including Africa’s biggest economies Nigeria, and South Africa, plus Burundi, Lesotho, Namibia, Eritrea, Benin, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau abstained from the free trade area agreement.
South Africa however signed the Kigali Declaration for the launch of the AfCFTA.