The heads of state of sub-Saharan Africa’s two biggest countries – Nigeria and South Africa – met earlier in October as part of continuing bilateral engagements aimed at strengthening and deepening cooperation between the two countries.
President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria and president Cyril Ramaphosa noted “with great satisfaction the economic cooperation between the two Republics and welcomed the steps to increase trade volumes as well as private sector investments”, according to a joint statement.
The visit comes at a time when the two economic giants of the region are struggling.
Growth in sub-Saharan Africa remained slow through 2019, hampered by persistent uncertainty in the global economy and the slow pace of domestic reforms, and the recovery in Nigeria, South Africa, and Angola – the region’s three largest economies – has remained weak and is weighing on the region’s prospects.
This is according to Africa’s Pulse, the World Bank’s twice-yearly economic update for the region, which says that overall growth in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to rise to 2.6 percent in 2019 from 2.5 percent in 2018, which is 0.1 percentage points lower than the April forecast.
Global uncertainty is taking a toll on growth, but in Nigeria, growth in the non-oil sector has been sluggish, while in Angola the oil sector remained weak. In South Africa, low investment sentiment is weighing on economic activity, according to the report. Economic growth in Nigeria and South Africa remains sluggish and has been lowered from the forecast in April.
To accelerate the pace of economic growth structural reform and policy certainty in both Nigeria and South Africa is needed.
Buhari and Ramaphosa reaffirmed their commitment to working together in pursuit of economic development on the continent in the context of AU Agenda 2063 and the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA).
Agenda 2063 is Africa’s blueprint for transforming Africa into the “global powerhouse of the future”.
The aspirations of the 2063 Agenda include “an integrated continent, politically united based on the ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance”; and an Africa “of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law”.
The impact of the AfCFTA Agreement is certainly potentially and theoretically huge for an “integrated” Africa and seeks in grand scale to unite 1.2 billion people, around 54 nations and a gross domestic product (GDP) of more than US$ 3.4-trillion under a single tariff free continental market.
There is no doubt that it is critical, at a time when intra-African trade amounts to only 15% of the world’s GDP, as compared with 67% in Europe. The lack of scale of most independent countries on the continent inhibits growth (and especially development of in-country industrial base), it is cheaper to get some ingredients from China than the next door neighbour.
The AfCTCA has lofty ambitions to deal with these issues, especially to eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers and increase intra-Africa trade to 50% by 2063.
Trade in Africa is one of the driving forces of integration on the continent and is crucially important for the economic development of the region and the establishment of the AfCFTA will support a further increase in intra-Africa Trade.
Agenda 2063 also mentions “the Rule of Law”. The strength of the Rule of Law in a country ranks among the top three considerations when multinationals make decisions about where to locate foreign direct investment, which is crucial to economic growth. The consideration of the Rule of Law is above considerations such as the cost of doing business and access to national and regional markets, which is some of the findings of "Risk and Return: Foreign Direct Investment and the Rule of Law".
Hogan Lovells alongside the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law and the Investment Treaty Forum at BICIL, the Economist Intelligence Unit and the British Institute of International Comparative Law published Risk and Return in 2015, based on a survey of over 300 senior decision makers at Forbes 2000 companies with global annual revenues of at least US$1-billion.
Where investors experienced Rule of Law challenges – particularly political instability, arbitrary or discriminatory treatment and intellectual property violations – it also revealed that they are liable to reduce or even withdraw investment.
There are other challenges in the two economic giants of sub-Saharan Africa, but progress towards higher economic growth can be made by, amongst others, driving clear strategy and policy, putting predictable regulations in place, and controlling corruption.
Written by Andrew Skipper, partner and head of Africa at Hogan Lovells