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Era of colonialism, imperialism over in Africa, Ramaphosa says as he takes over AU

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has promised to lead a revolution into infrastructure development across Africa, a challenge he said if realised would see an end to all manifestations of colonialism and imperialism on the continent.

Mr Ramaphosa took over on Sunday as the new chairperson of the African Union in Addis Ababa, using his acceptance speech to rail against decades of neglect that had rendered Africa a minor player in world trade and notorious dumping ground for substandard goods.

“The era of colonialism and imperialism under which Africa is a pit stop in the global assembly line has passed,” Mr Ramaphosa declared as he took over from Egypt’s Abdel Fatah El-Sisi for the one-year tenure on Sunday afternoon.

The South African leader expressed high expectations of the recently-adopted African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). He said its implementation would mark the beginning of prosperity in a continent that has had its potential suppressed for too long.

“We are a continent that is rich in natural resources but also in history, intellectual output, culture in its sense of humanity,” he said, adding that he would use his leadership to kickstart a process that would guarantee an “Africa connected through a vast network of roads and railways, enabling the free movement of goods, people and services.”

The 33rd Summit of the African Union that got underway earlier this week has been packed with discussions around urgent implementation of AfCFTA, a continent-wide trade treaty adopted in 2018. Fifty-two out of 54 countries and territories that make up the African Union have endorsed the treaty. Legislative bodies of all the countries have already commenced ratification processes.

African leaders believe the agreement would spur intra-continental trade amongst the member states, which is currently very low, notwithstanding their common borders and shared cultural heritage.

“The success of the AfCTA depends on infrastructure development,” Mr Ramaphosa said, adding that a road would be constructed between Cape Town and Cairo as part of the agenda. A slew of “outstanding issues” around AfCFTA, especially on the definition of what constitutes an ‘African good or service’ would be finalised before the official commencement of the policy, he added.

Women and youth would also play a major role in driving AfCFTA implementation due to their indispensable potentials for economic mobility, Mr Ramaphosa said.

He promised to reduce gender-based violence that has become a key impediment to social development and technological breakthrough on the continent.

“We have heard the calls of the women and the girls of Africa for liberation from the shackles of patriarchy, violence and economic exclusion,” Mr Ramaphosa said. “Africa must drive a skills revolution and an Africa intelligence forum must be established to include those in the diaspora.”

This year’s AU summit, which has non-African leaders like Antonio Guterres and Canada’s Justin Trudeau in attendance, focused on silencing the guns to foster economic development on the continent. It would wrap up on Monday after consideration of all pending policy initiatives that were presented to the leaders of the 54 member states.

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