Africa cannot be described as conflict-free, fragile and conflict-affected states/situations remain endemic across the continent.  The African Union (AU)’s Solemn Declaration and the ‘Silencing the Guns’ initiative recognize the imperative of peace for development. Aspiration 4 of Agenda 2063 aims to achieve ‘[a] peaceful and secure Africa’ through a dialogue-centred approach to conflict prevention and resolution of conflicts. The Agenda 2063 flagship initiative of ‘Silencing the Guns’ is central to Africa’s quest for a more peaceful and stable continent. This undoubtedly complements various national, regional and global efforts (including the research, advocacy and activities of the Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding and other stakeholders) to foster peace and peacebuilding in Africa. Despite the efforts so far, peace is still largely elusive in Africa. Out of 37 countries categorised as fragile and conflict-affected states, African countries are 19 in number representing 51% of the total states. The remaining African countries excluded from this list do not fare better in the institutional and social fragility index, nor are they delivering enduring peace and sustainable development to their populace. Consequently, the emergence of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) constitutes a pragmatic approach to using trade and investment frameworks to change the narrative of the climate of wars, conflict and fragility. Arguably, trade and investment liberalisation (through the free movement of goods, services and people across borders) promotes prosperity, inclusive and sustainable development. This, in turn, halts the wheel of conflict and simultaneously turns on the wheel of peace and peacebuilding in Africa.
Peace, Peacebuilding and AfCFTA
AfCFTA can lay a sustainable foundation for enduring peace and consolidating peace in conflict-affected situations. AfCFTA is simply a trade agreement (covering investment, intellectual property, competition policy and gender, youth digital trade and small and medium-sized enterprises) which applies to the whole African country and is aimed at facilitating the free movement of goods, services and persons across borders to enhance African development. AfCFTA constitutes the largest trading bloc after the world trade organisation (WTO) regarding the number of participating countries. AfCFTA will result in the gross domestic product (GDP) projected to exceed $2.5 trillion, covering a market of 1.2 billion people across all member states of the AU. The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) estimates that AfCFTA has the potential ‘both to boost intra-African trade by 52.3 per cent by eliminating import duties and to double this trade if non-tariff barriers are also reduced’. Indeed, the AU’s approval of Phase 2 of AfCFTA, covering protocols on investment, intellectual property and competition policy in February 2023, reinforces the commitment of African leaders and policymakers to use economic integration to foster a climate of peace and sustainable development. The Phase 2 protocols build on the earlier conclusion of Phase 1 (covering protocols on trade in goods, services and dispute settlement).
AfCFTA seeks to engage the youth, women and firms to trade and invest rather than be in a warring state. AfCFTA aims to promote integrated, inclusive and sustainable development that is cohesive and responsive. The expectation is that an improvement in the overall quality of life in Africa will reduce the aggrieved population’s predisposition to violence and conflict. The UN Secretary-General’s ‘In Larger Freedom’ Report emphasised the synergistic relationship of development, security, and human rights in building peace. Certainly, the drivers of conflict in Africa are diverse, including internal and external factors. Nevertheless, the fundamental elements that cause conflict in Africa are institutional discrimination and social, political and economic factors. The infighting among the elite that often snowballs into conflict is not far removed from the share of resources and power control, which gives access to control of resources. Equitable use of resources and commonwealth for the good of all, excluding no one, has the capacity to change the narrative of conflict to cooperation. The atmosphere of exclusion, on the other hand, creates and deepens an environment of general resentment, widespread unemployment and absolute disaffection which incrementally snowball into conflict. Addressing the situation requires inclusive development policies integrating every tribe, religion and affiliation into the social, political and economic structure of governance. Accordingly, state parties to AfCFTA need to demonstrate sufficient commitment to using trade and investment to foster inclusive development with no tribe, religion or affiliation neglected or suppressed.
The interrelation that underpins peace, peacebuilding and AfCFTA has important consequences that warrant more profound research. In any case, the implementation of AfCFTA needs to pay attention to factors that trigger and sustain conflict, as well as the role of inclusive governance and development in promoting peace and peacebuilding in Africa. The areas of attention include: targeted investment in fragile areas to integrate and absorb unemployed youth prone to conflict; equitable provision of trade and investment opportunities arising from AfCFTA; advocacy and sensitisation programmes to co-opt vulnerable populations to use trade and investment to raise their quality of living standard; elimination of non-tariff barriers to ease doing business landscape; cross-border infrastructural and digital connectivity; deliberate implementation of trade and investment policies to limit propensity for conflict; business training and funding programme for vulnerable and deserving population; reintegration programme for combatants and skill acquisition for sustainable living standard; addressing socio-economic drivers of discontent through equitable and inclusive policies; accountability and transparency in the execution of AfCFTA agenda and processes; institutional strengthening and, transparent, accountable and responsible governance.
AfCFTA can facilitate peace and peacebuilding in Africa through inclusive and sustainable development. While the drivers of conflict in Africa are diverse, institutional discrimination and bad governance play a fundamental part. Consequently, policy options are required to transition from governance by exclusion to inclusive governance that leaves no one behind in the development footprints.
 Terence McNamee and Monde Muyangwa, The State of Peacebuilding in Africa: Lessons Learned for Policymakers and Practitioners (2020) 5.
 IMF, ‘Strategy for Fragile and Conflict-Affected States (FCS)’ (2022) 9, https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/Policy-Papers/Issues/2022/03/14/The-IMF-Strategy-for-Fragile-and-Conflict-Affected-States-515129, accessed 27 June 2023.
 African Union, Operational Phase of the African Continental Free Trade Area Launched (2023), https://au.int/en/articles/operational-phase-african-continental-free-trade-area-launched (accessed 24 March 2023).
 United Nations Commission for Africa, African Continental Free Trade Area: Questions & Answers (2018), https://au.int/sites/default/files/documents/33984-doc-qa_cfta_en_rev15march.pdf (accessed 24 March 2023).