Among the steps leaders of African nations have taken to strengthen unity, the continental free trade agreement which came into effect in May this year has been a significant step in improving integration on the continent, delegates of the World Economic Forum Africa heard.
The forum, which kicked off in Cape Town on Wednesday, sees business leaders and government officials from across the continent converging to discuss economic-related issues in the face of the fourth industrial revolution.
On Thursday, seven heads of African states, including SA President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, participated in a panel discussion about the way forward for the continent.
Asked what the next necessary step would be for the continent to strengthen its unity, Ramaphosa responded that the free trade plan, adopted by most countries, would preset an opportunity to generate growth through trade.
The agreement will create the world's largest free trade area, once operational, and is aimed at establishing a single continental market for goods and services. It will allow the free movement of people.
As countries become closely integrated, there will be more cohesion between the regional blocks on the continent, Ramaphosa said.
"It will develop a virtuous cycle and engulf the continent for growth," he added.
Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi also shared views that the next priority is to remove barriers for free trade. There should also be investment in infrastructure to enable trade at harbours and airports.
Mnangagwa echoed this, saying that more integration is needed, and following that, there should be development in other areas such as education.
"As African leadership, we must know where we want to go and what we want to achieve, then there must be political will to achieve that objective," he said.
Ethiopia's President Sahlework Zwede said that the free trade agreed upon at the African Union level must be "cascaded" throughout all countries.
"It can't remain at the AU level or with all heads of state, but be cascaded through all countries. The integration process we started must be reinforced. This is important in moving forward."
In his remarks on the prospects for Africa, Ramaphosa said that Africa's future is still "great".
"Our continent is the fastest growing region in the world, we will reach higher levels of growth," he said. Partnerships for investment and development agencies are needed to achieve growth, he added.
"This is Africa's century and we want to utilise it to good effect," Ramaphosa said.