In a powerful speech delivered at the New Global Financial Pact Summit in Paris, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the challenges faced by African countries and the disappointment arising from their interactions with the West[1]. The speech shed light on the urgent need for an intra-African approach to tackle these challenges, emphasising the significance of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and its role in transforming the continent’s fortunes. While not explicitly stated by Ramaphosa, it becomes apparent that the AfCFTA’s intra-African focus holds immense potential for Africa’s development while acknowledging Western assistance’s importance. This blog explores the key takeaways from the President’s speech and demonstrates why an intra-African approach is crucial for Africa’s growth.

A Historic Call for Change: The Birth of a New Era

President Ramaphosa, in his closing remarks, highlighted the negative experiences of African nations at the hands of the West. One pressing issue was the unequal access to vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Acknowledging the efforts of countries like Germany and the United States, Ramaphosa expressed Africa’s sentiment of being treated as mere recipients, or even beggars, when accessing life-saving vaccines. This disparity raised resentment among African nations, as they found themselves at the mercy of those in the global North[2].

Against this backdrop of discontent and disappointment, it becomes evident that an intra-African approach is needed to overcome such challenges. Remarkably, the third period from 2010 onwards has witnessed the emergence of Southern-led development banks, both regional and inter-governmental, acting as game-changers in the African landscape. South Africa (SA) plays a crucial role as a founding member of two vital institutions: the New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. These institutions symbolise the shift towards Africa taking charge of its destiny, independently driving economic growth and development[3].

Africa’s Voice on the Global Stage: Empowering the Global South

In pursuit of greater equality and inclusivity, Ramaphosa and other African leaders have been advocating for the inclusion of African nations as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)[4]. SA has emerged as a strong advocate for the global South, leveraging its position in multilateral forums to advance its African agenda. This commitment is exemplified by SA’s active engagement within the BRICS bloc, where it has consistently promoted the inclusion of African interests to advance economic growth and development on the continent. The country’s foreign policy stance has not been without its challenges. SA’s position on the war in Ukraine is a case in point.[5].

Critiques of SA’s engagement in Ukraine often stem from prejudices and misunderstandings about Africa’s role in global affairs. Assumptions that Africa lacks the capacity to understand or contribute to international conflicts reveal underlying biases. However, the ability to mediate conflicts is not solely determined by skills but also by the perceived power and relevance of the mediator[6]. While African states may lack global power, their engagement in resolving conflicts that affect their economies demonstrates their legitimate concerns and interests.

The SA-led delegation to Ukraine and Russia cannot be dismissed as a mere publicity stunt. Africa has a genuine stake in resolving the conflict due to its impact on fuel and food prices, which exert economic pressure on African nations. By participating in peace initiatives, African leaders aim to ensure that their voices are heard, and their concerns addressed, challenging the notion that Africa lacks power or influence in international affairs.

The Promise of the AfCFTA: Empowering Africa

Amidst these efforts, President Ramaphosa’s speech highlights the immense potential of the global South and the importance of empowering the AfCFTA. Spanning 55 nations, this intra-African trade agreement envisions a unified market that fosters economic integration, drives industrialization, and enhances Africa’s position in global trade. The AfCFTA opens avenues for greater self-sufficiency, reduced dependence on external aid, and the development of regional value chains through increased trade among African countries. It empowers African economies to leverage their abundant resources, exchange knowledge and expertise, and establish a thriving ecosystem that benefits all member states.

Emphasizing an intra-African approach does not mean disregarding Western assistance. Instead, the AfCFTA presents an opportunity for African nations to engage with the global community on an equal footing. It signifies a paradigm shift where Africa’s voice is heard, recognized, and respected. By harnessing the potential of the AfCFTA, African countries can collaboratively address healthcare, technology transfer, climate action, and other critical issues. This approach fosters a mutually beneficial relationship between Africa and the West, transforming Africa from a passive recipient into an active participant and contributor to global progress.

Overall, Ramaphosa’s impassioned speech at the New Global Financial Pact Summit highlighted the need to embrace an intra-African approach to confront the challenges faced by the continent while acknowledging the importance of Western assistance. The AfCFTA emerges as a transformative force, providing African countries with the means to showcase their potential.

[1] Business Day, 2023. Cyril Ramaphosa lays into the West in Paris for vaccine inequality.

[2] Cape Talk, 2023. Ramaphosa says resentment at West still lingers overs COVID.

[3] Institute for Economic Justice, 2023. International financial Institutions’ Covid-19 Lending in South Africa:

Context, contentions, and policy implications.

[4] EWN, 2023. Ramaphosa: SA’s Non-aligned Stance on Russia-Ukraine war not the same as neutral.

[5] Aljazeera, 2023. Africa’s Russia, Ukraine peace mission criticised in South Africa.

[6] Friedman, S. 2023. What Matters Is Not What You Know – It Is Who You Scare.

Photo credit: GovernmentZA on