The Potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to Transform the Silk Road Vision into Reality in Sub-Saharan Africa | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online


While China may be geographically distant from continental Africa, there is evidence that contact between the two originated millennia ago, although the Silk Road only found its way to sub-Saharan Africa during the Sung Dynasty of 960-1279AD, thanks to Chinese Shipbuilding. Subsequent dynasties saw the contact fizzle out, and it was only in 1956 that diplomatic relations were rekindled with Egypt, followed by other African countries emerging from colonialization. Since the late 1990s the relationship escalated rapidly, and in 2013, China became sub-Saharan Africa’s largest export and development partner supported by initiatives such as FOCAC and BRICS. The relationship remains fragmented though, dependent on bilateral relations between China and individual African nations – the 54 countries are vastly different in their colonial histories, cultures, socio-economic development and geopolitical attributes. While the Silk Road holds enormous potential for Africa, yet Africa itself is the constraint to this potential. The lack of integration within Africa, and the complexity of trade due to infrastructural bottlenecks and the institutional dysfunction of many countries, serves to limit the potential of the Silk Road in Africa. This paper argues that bilateral relations continue to characterise the relationship between China and Africa, and that the Silk Road aspirations in Africa are simply an afterthought based on China’s existing relationships with individual nations. The silk road in sub-Saharan Africa lacks strategic orientation and coordinated effort, a function of Africa’s dichotomous environment. For the silk road to truly complement Africa’s hunger for integration in the global arena, Africa needs to change the status quo and remove the intra-African significant barriers to trade, in order to facilitate the silk road’s potential in Africa. The paper considers the responsibilities of African nations in this regard, with specific reference to the proposed African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).


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