President Emmerson Mnangagwa signing the AfCFTA Agreement, Kigali Declaration, and the Protocol on free movement of people in Rwanda today

African Union chairman Rwandan President Paul Kagame has described the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) launch as a major step towards African unity and integration.

He was speaking at the launching ceremony at Kigali Convention Centre today.

He paid tribute to leaders and forerunners of the concept of the free trade area.

The launching ceremony began with a speech by President Kagame welcoming South African President Cyril Ramaphosa who was appearing at the AU as head of state for the first time.

President Kagame also paid tribute to regional economic blocs in laying the foundation of the tree trade area.

He said Africa is prioritising the trade of value added goods and outlined the advantages of an African free trade area.

African Union Commission Chairperson Mr Mussa Faki said Africa cannot develop if the continent remains divided.

“Despite challenges continental integration is a must as it will lift economic barriers and provide opportunities for the continent,” said Mr Faki.

 Mr Faki said each member state has a lot to benefit from the establishment of the free trade area, adding that there is no need to hesitate on the matter.

He implored member states to sign and ratify the agreement quickly to ensure it is effected before the end of the year.

The AU Commission Chairperson implored those who have not joined the treaty on air transport and other agreements on the free movement of goods and services to do so, recalling some of the speeches of founding fathers like Ahmed Ben Bella, Kwame Nkrumah and others on the importance of the African economic free trade area.

 President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou said the creation of the AfCFTA means a single market from Cape to Cairo.

“The AfCFTA would also help curb brain drain to countries of the north and creates opportunities on the continent,” said Mr Issoufou .

He said Africa is in the process of creating a seamless and borderless community in the economic sphere.

Mr Issoufou urged member states to ratify the agreement with speed.

Fifty-five African heads of state and government put pen to paper making the first steps towards an economically competitive Africa through creation of a single market in which goods and services move freely.

First to append his signature to the protocols was the President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou, followed by host President and AU current chair Mr Paul Kagame, then former AU chair and President of Chad.

History has been made as Zimbabwe joined other AU member states in the signing of the AfCFTA Agreement in Kigali today.

The leaders appended their signatures to three documents during the signing ceremony namely the AfCFTA Agreement, the Protocol on Free Movement and the Kigali Protocol.