Leveraging the BRI for Africa’s Industrialisation and Intra-Trade (Opportunities for the AfCFTA)
Two initiatives have recently gained prominence, one on the global stage and the other in Africa: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The former initiative’s primary aim is to build economic infrastructure in the transport, energy and telecommunications sectors in the countries through which the BRI will pass, which has come to include several African countries. Concurrently, the objective of the AfCFTA is to deepen economic integration amongst African states by creating a unified market for goods and services and in the process, propel Africa’s industrialisation and structural transformation. Although seemingly independent, these initiatives converge and present two economic diplomacy instruments that can be leveraged to address Africa’s industrialisation challenge and the bottlenecks to intra-African trade for inclusive and sustainable development. On the back of secondary data sources, this paper explores how the BRI can be leveraged to advance the objectives of the AfCFTA by addressing the financing, infrastructure and productive capacity challenges constraining Africa’s industrialisation and intra-trade. From the outset, the strategic focus of the BRI on infrastructure development easily complements Africa’s infrastructure and trade facilitation efforts aimed at improving connectivity amongst African nations and boosting intra-African trade in line with the objectives of the AfCFTA and the Action Plan for Boosting Intra-African Trade (BIAT). Africa’s infrastructure challenge remains one of the oldest but still significant hurdles to industrialisation and intra-African trade.