Implementing the Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA): The Role of Civil Society

Implementing the Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA): The Role of Civil Society

It would not be an understatement to confidently state that there is enormous potential in Africa’s regional economic integration and intra-African trade. Sadly, the continent is still heavily reliant on commodity and agricultural exports. Meanwhile, Africa spends huge sums of money importing capital goods and food products predominantly from outside the continent. For example, Africa’s annual food import bill of $35 billion is estimated to rise to $110 billion by 2025. It is safe to argue that Africa has a huge export potential. However, the continent currently records a global trade share of less than 3%.

Intra-African trade remains below its potential, accounting for about 17% of the total African trade volume in 2017. In contrast, intracontinental trade accounts for 51% of exports in North America, 49% in Asia, 22% in Latin America while among Western European countries this number reaches 69%.

African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA)

To accelerate the implementation of development and more economic resilience through a unified African market, the African Union (AU) Trade Ministers agreed to establish an African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in January 2012. The AfCTA represents a major opportunity for countries to boost growth, reduce poverty, and broaden economic inclusion. The AfCFTA has since been a flagship programme of the AU and AfCFTA negotiations. The AfCTA was launched in June 2015 and entered into force on May, 2019. The AfCTA was signed by 52 African Member States and has been operationalised with the necessary 30 ratifications. This is a huge diplomatic milestone given the short timeline, the ambitious liberalisation goals and the heterogeneity and large number of 55 Member States negotiating the Free Trade Area.

The Fifty-eighth Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was held on 23 January 2021. At this meeting, the heads of State welcomed the entry into force of the AfCFTA on 1st January 2021 and ratification of the agreement by twelve (12) out of the fifteen (15) ECOWAS Member States.

It is worth stating that civil society actors and other non-state actors have played a key role leading to the adoption of the AfCTA agreement. The current developments including the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on African economies provide an avenue for civil society organisations (CSOs) to continue to engage in promoting its implementation within the continent. CSOs can bring citizens’ concerns to public authorities, monitor policy and programme implementation, play a watchdog role, as well as contribute to the achievement of greater transparency and accountability in the implementation of the AfCTA.

Positively, the African Union Department of Trade and Industry organised the first annual AfCFTA Stakeholders Forum in Dakar in November 2018 where a good representation of African Stakeholders took part and committed to engage Member States in asking for ratification and implementation of the AfCFTA. Prior to that, the Department took the opportunity to dialogue with African Civil Society through several meetings hosted by civil society organisations. All these dialogues have proved useful in obtaining feedback and views of a diverse range of CSOs. The purpose of the Civil Society Forum was to enhance stakeholder engagement on the implementation of the AfCFTA.

The Forum was designed to impart knowledge to all stakeholders on the priority trade issues of the AfCFTA, establish a foundation for regular information flow on trade issues to key stakeholders, improve coordination between CSOs and relevant government ministries and agencies on issues related to the AfCFTA, increase participation opportunities for civil society stakeholders in the work programme of the AfCFTA and strengthen the culture of dialogue and inclusiveness.

Civil Society’s Roles and Responsibilities

It is envisaged that the engagement with civil society will Improve understanding among the public about the AfCFTA, and the requirements for its successful implementation increased stakeholders’ participation in national, regional, and international trade policy formulation, negotiations, and implementation required for the successful operationalisation of the AfCFTA. Therefore, it has become imperative for civil society and other non-state actors to support the implementation of the Agreement through various strategies and programmes. Some potential roles and responsibilities of civil society include, but are not limited to the following:


  1. Participate in sessions of the AfCFTA’s secretariat: CSOs need to find ways of strategically engaging with the AfCTA secretariat. Potential areas of engagement are through participation in their convenings with state and non-state institutions, trade and investment promotion activities and promotion and dissemination of information on the AfCTA to community citizens.
  2. Encourage, support, and follow up the ratification of AfCTA by countries that are yet to ratify: As at, 25 January 2020, 30 countries had ratified the agreement. However, 24 countries are yet to ratify. Some of the countries that are yet to ratify are going through legislative processes in their countries to finalise the ratification process. Civil society has a role to play in terms of providing technical and advisory support to facilitate the process for countries.
  3. Raise visibility and engagement of AfCTA with community citizens:  Civil society should organise seminars, workshops, and forums at every level, develop and publicise information tools to facilitate understanding of the Convention, disseminate information to stakeholders through national and regional media, websites, and newsletters. In addition, CSOs should educate citizens about AfCTA policies and their implication on their day-to-day endeavours and how to provide information to the relevant policy makers.
  4. Conduct needs assessment on the application of the Agreement in national frameworks and programmes and identifies any difficulties on the implementation of the Agreement: CSOs should work with the AfCTA secretariat and other key stakeholders to determine the constraints within countries with harmonising their national processes and infrastructure to align with the objectives of AfCTA. CSOs can provide valuable technical expertise to collect and analyse data that will allow key stakeholders to ascertain gaps between what exists and what is needed to ensure a smooth implementation of AfCTA in all member states.
  5. Participate in multisectoral consultations on AfCTA: CSOs should actively participate in consultations with relevant public authorities on the development of policies and measures to effectively implement the AfCTA.
  6. Demand accountability from governments on the extent to which they are fostering intra-African trade: Civil society should monitor and support government efforts that are designed to ensure relevant national laws and policies follow the provisions and the aspirations of AfCTA. Civil society should also monitor and influence governments to undertake the needed Investments in building the infrastructural and institutional capacity of key policy institutions to facilitate an enabling trade environment within Africa.


Regional economic integration is imperative to achieve competitiveness and growth in Africa. The continent’s regional integration project continues to face serious challenges including persistent regulatory, institutional and infrastructure challenges. Hence, civil society’s engagement in this process is essential because it ensures that the voices and concerns of community citizens are heard and included in policies and projects. Therefore, civil society’s engagement in the delivery of AfCTA guarantees inclusion and participation but could also foster transparency, accountability, and adoption.



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Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.


Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.


Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.


Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.


Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.


George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.


Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.


Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.


Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.


Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.


Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.


Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.


Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.


Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.


Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.


Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.


Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.


Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.


Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.


Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.