To wean themselves from debt, African nations should truly unite

A united Africa will have greater bargaining power in international trade negotiations, enabling it to secure better deals and protect its interests. [iStockphoto]

Africa is a continent with immense potential for economic growth, but its progress has been hampered by a staggering foreign debt burden.

As of 2021, the external debt of sub-Saharan Africa was around Sh94.2 trillion, which poses a significant threat to the economic development of the region. Many countries have sought bailout packages from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to relieve themselves of debt.

However, these packages often come with strict conditions that require austerity measures and structural reforms, making it a painful process for the citizens of these countries. To break free from this vicious cycle of debt and dependency, African countries must come together and forge a united front.

True regional integration can unlock significant economic benefits for the continent. By creating a common market, African nations can boost intra-regional trade, which currently stands at only 15 per cent of the continent's total trade, compared to 70 per cent in Europe and 50 per cent in Asia. This will enable African countries to tap into their vast natural resources and create value-added products that can be sold within the continent, thereby reducing their dependence on exports to foreign markets.

A united Africa will have greater bargaining power in international trade negotiations, enabling it to secure better deals and protect its interests. This will also enable them to leverage their collective resources to develop critical infrastructure projects, such as energy and transportation networks, which will further spur economic growth and create jobs.

However, achieving regional integration is easier said than done. African countries have long been plagued by political instability, conflict, and deep-seated rivalries that have prevented them from working together. Furthermore, African countries have different levels of economic development and varying degrees of openness to trade, which can complicate efforts to create a level playing field.

To overcome these challenges, they must take bold steps towards integration. This includes dismantling trade barriers and harmonising regulatory frameworks to create a seamless market. It also means investing in infrastructure projects that connect neighbouring countries and facilitate trade. Furthermore, African countries must build trust and develop shared values and objectives that can unite them behind a common vision - an Africa free of foreign debt.

The benefits of regional integration are clear, but achieving it will require a significant shift in mindset and a willingness to cooperate. African countries must recognise that they have more to gain from working together than from going it alone. Only by standing together can African countries break free from the cycle of debt and achieve sustainable economic growth.

One major obstacle to regional integration is the lack of political will. African countries must prioritise regional integration and work towards building a strong, self-sustaining economic bloc that can stand on its own without relying on foreign aid and loans. This requires a shift from a focus on individual country interests to the collective interests of the continent.

Many African countries also lack basic infrastructure such as roads, railways, and energy networks, which makes it difficult to move goods and services across borders. Countries must invest in infrastructure projects that connect African nations and facilitate trade.

Corruption is also a significant barrier to economic growth and development in Africa. It undermines the rule of law, erodes public trust, and distorts economic incentives. African countries must strengthen anti-corruption institutions and enforce laws against corruption.