Africa in the news: Updates on the AfCFTA, EAC border closures, and Sudan power-sharing agreement

Sudanese people chant slogans as they celebrate, after Sudan's ruling military council and a coalition of opposition and protest groups reached an agreement to share power during a transition period leading to elections, along the streets of Khartoum, Sudan, July 5, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah - RC19A80F15C0

New members and secretariat of African Continental Free Trade Area

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was officially launched at the 12th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union (AU) in Niamey, Niger last Sunday, July 7. At the summit, Nigeria and Benin signed the AfCFTA agreement; all African countries except Eritrea have now signed. Gabon and Equatorial Guinea also deposited their instruments of ratification, bringing the number of countries that have ratified the agreement to 27.

A number of instruments to facilitate the implementation of the agreement were launched at the summit, including rules of origin, a trade-in-goods dashboard, a payments and settlements system, and a dashboard of the AU Trade Observatory. Ghana was also announced to be the host of the AfCFTA secretariat. However, critical parts of the agreement have yet to be finalized before countries commence trading under the AfCFTA on July 1, 2020, including on schedules of tariff concessions and services commitments, and policies around investment, intellectual property, and competition.

Rwanda and Uganda sued over border closures

Last week, a collection of citizens groups announced that they would sue Uganda and Rwanda at the East African Court of Justice for financial losses resulting from the closure of the border between the two nations. In a statement, the plaintiffs noted that the border closures “contravened the treaty terms of the [East African Community] concerning freedom of trade and movement over the border.”

The border between Rwanda and Uganda has been closed since February, hurting communities reliant on cross-border trade in both countries. According to data from Uganda’s East African Community Ministry, the country lost out on $664 million worth of exports to Rwanda in the first three months of the border closure. Rwanda’s exports have declined as well, with $104 million in lost trade with Uganda. Regional trade patterns are also being affected: Kenya’s exports to Rwanda via Uganda are locked out, and Rwanda is now moving its exports through ports in Tanzania instead of Kenya.

On Friday, the presidents of Rwanda and Uganda are expected to meet in Angola during a four-party  summit with the Democratic Republic of the Congo to discuss security issues in the Great Lakes region. The ongoing dispute, which started in 2017, is likely to be discussed during the meetings.

Civilian and military leaders in Sudan sign power-sharing agreement

This week, civilian and military leaders in Sudan signed a power-sharing agreement in the wake of the ousting of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir, continuing protests, and reactionary violence earlier this year. The deal includes a presidential council of 10 to be split equally between military and civilian leaders, and a chair to be held by the military for 21 months followed by a civilian for 18 months. There will also be a ministerial council comprised of civilians. The transition period is expected to last just over three years, after which elections will be held. The deal also includes an independent investigation of the violent June 3 crackdown against protestors in which over 100 people were killed.

Overall, the deal has been met with praise from both sides, though uneasiness among protestors still exists. On Thursday evening, the Transitional Military Council announced it had foiled a coup attempt by military officers opposing the power-sharing deal.

Negotiations over the transition have been fraught with tension and distrust, with civilian leaders demanding majority control over the transitional government and military leaders resisting.