In its promotion of economic integration, Ramaphosa's AU can play a big role in encouraging fellow African countries to pursue pro-market reforms, writes Phumlani M. Majozi
A week ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa took over the 2020 chairmanship of the African Union (AU). This means South Africa will be at the helm of Africa's affairs this year.
As Ramaphosa takes the reigns from his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the AU – the African continent faces a host of societal challenges.
From poverty, to deadly civil conflicts and corruption that is depriving ordinary Africans of fast-paced socio-economic development.
For Africa's 55 countries, it remains an arduous task to justify why the world should invest in the continent.
Statism - a destructive public policy - coupled with conflicts, make it difficult to make a case for investing in Africa at this point.
With this upsetting reality, Ramaphosa's AU will have to lead Africa to a common vision - whose objective will be to reverse and eliminate the apparatuses that are worsening the plight of fellow Africans.
This will certainly prove challenging.
Africa is a very diverse, tribal society with many histories. East Africa is different from West, North and Southern Africa.
These regions are not the same and face different challenges.
Ramaphosa takes charge at a time when his country's image has been tainted across the continent over the past 15 years.
Deadly attacks directed at African migrants caused serious damage to South Africa's reputation.
These attacks caused foreign resentment towards South Africa - which was a sheer shame.
For us who travel the globe often, we found ourselves having to explain South Africa’s attacks on African migrants.
When I was in Nigeria and Kenya last year, people expressed their serious concerns about xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
Even in New York and Washington D.C. last September, I sometimes found myself in a very awkward position having to answer questions on South Africa's xenophobia.
It was really unpleasant.
With the chairmanship of the AU, Ramaphosa has an opportunity to, among many things, work on restoring South Africa's image and trust around the African continent.
Ramaphosa's AU is right to place security and promotion of economic integration across the continent at the top of its priority list.
Terrorist groups in West and East Africa are causing mayhem. Libya and South Sudan are epicenters of civil conflicts. The incessant violence continues in Central Africa.
No society can thrive and become prosperous in the midst of deadly violence. Prosperity is only achievable in a peaceful society.
The conflict-ridden regions require urgent, strategic attention.
At this point, we have to admit we are failing because terrorism and wars persist.
It is crystal clear that military force alone against this wave of terror and conflicts is not producing peace.
I concur with those who argue that a robust campaign to get ordinary Africans to cooperate on the dismantling of the terrorist ideology will be fundamental.
It is the toxic idea that needs to be defeated permanently – and that won’t take the use of military force alone.
I believe Ramaphosa's AU has a huge role to play in taking the first steps in that regard.
On economics, Africa’s countries are not as liberalised as they should be.
Very few nations in Africa have chosen to embrace pro-market reforms.
Most remain repressed and unproductive economies.
The Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom provides evidence on the extent to which Africa’s economies remain repressed – and dirt poor.
African nations are sovereign states - and nobody may or should dictate on what domestic economic policy they have to adopt to uplift their citizens out of poverty.
But in its promotion of economic integration, Ramaphosa's AU can play a big role in encouraging fellow African countries to pursue pro-market reforms.
He could learn from Donald Trump's speech at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, last month.
As President of the US, Trump attributed his success to the American economy.
He pointed out that pro-market reforms were an important factor which has contributed to America being the (relatively) best-performing economy in the developed world.
He urged other nations to embrace free-market values and principles.
I commended him for his well-measured speech, because African countries are trapped in poverty and need to learn from America’s economic success.
President Ramaphosa has been tasked with a difficult job as chairman of the AU. No doubt. Leading a diverse, tribal and chaotic society will not be easy.
The continent is at a crossroads - and the world is watching the pace at which it is embracing political and economic reform.
The past decades have been a huge disappointment in many ways - with tribal conflicts and dictatorships that ravaged the continent’s societies.
Ramaphosa’s AU must acknowledge that we are in the process of rebuilding and that rebuilding to a better state of society will not be overnight.
What is vital is that the first steps towards a prosperous direction be taken.
That is the only way Africa can garner investor confidence around the world.
- Phumlani M. Majozi is a political and economic analyst, a senior fellow at AfricanLiberty.org, radio talk show host, and non-executive director at Free Market Foundation South Africa. Views expressed here are his own.