Harnessing The AfCFTA For FDI Growth: A Pathway To Economic Prosperity In Africa?

SimmonsCooper Partners


SimmonsCooper Partners (“SCP”) is a full service law firm in Nigeria with offices in Lagos and Abuja. SCP is one of Nigeria’s leading practices for transactions relating to all aspects of competition law, commercial litigation, regulatory compliance, project finance and energy. Our team has gained extensive experience in advising both local and international clients.
The aspiration to establish a unified African market has been a longstanding theme in pan-African political discussions spanning decades. The continent took concrete steps toward realizing this objective...
Nigeria Government, Public Sector
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The aspiration to establish a unified African market has been a longstanding theme in pan-African political discussions spanning decades. The continent took concrete steps toward realizing this objective with the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement. The AfCFTA Agreement represents a major collaborative endeavor among African nations designed to foster economic integration and advance African industrialization by fostering greater intra-African trade. One of the objectives of the AfCFTA is to unify Africa into a single market and create a liberalized market for goods and services by removing long-standing barriers to business across the continent. Launched during the 10th Extraordinary Session of the African Union Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, in March 2018, the AfCFTA aims to fulfill the vision of Agenda 2063: "The Africa We Want".

The AfCFTA aims to boost trade within Africa by setting specific targets like removing tariffs gradually, improving transportation and border controls, encouraging open trade, increasing investment collaborations, and unifying rules on intellectual property and competition. Its inception aims not only to dismantle tariffs but also to streamline trade regulations, enhancing Africa's allure to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). This strategic move is poised to redefine economic interactions within the continent, bolster competitiveness, and pave new avenues for development.

FDI serves as a cornerstone for global economic dynamics, representing cross-border investments that empower countries to breach beyond their borders, fostering significant ownership in foreign ventures. This form of investment is vital for Africa, promising to inject capital, introduce cutting-edge technology, and generate employment, thus catalyzing economic growth.

AfCFTA and FDI: An Interdependent

AfCFTA is set to become a magnet for FDI, offering a framework that mitigates investment barriers and promotes economic integration. Through its implementation, AfCFTA is expected to escalate intra-African trade, attract foreign investments, and thereby stimulate economic advancement. The alignment of trade regulations, coupled with the elimination of tariffs, creates a fertile environment for investments, promising a surge in economic activity and revenue enhancement across the continent.

Driving Forces Behind Economic Transformation

The role of FDI in economic development cannot be overstated, especially in the context of Africa. It is instrumental in:

  • Economic Development: FDI acts as a powerful engine for economic growth in African countries by bringing in capital, expertise, and technology. This is crucial for improving infrastructure, modernizing industries, and encouraging overall economic advancement. For example, investments in manufacturing and telecommunications significantly aid a country's efforts toward industrialization and diversification of its economy.
  • Facilitating International Trade: FDI makes international trade easier, a point that is particularly important for countries like Nigeria, which have the potential to export in various sectors. Through the establishment of businesses and production facilities, foreign investors enhance a country's export competitiveness, diminish reliance on imports, and foster balanced trade relationships. This dynamic contributes to stabilising the economic framework of a country and strengthening its global market position.
  • Employment Generation: One of the most tangible benefits of FDI is the creation of employment opportunities. The establishment or expansion of operations by foreign investors generates employment across various sectors, leading to poverty reduction and socio-economic upliftment.
  • Tax Incentives and Regulatory Reforms: Tax incentives offered to foreign investors play a significant role in attracting FDI to countries like Nigeria, prompting investments in priority areas. These incentives, along with regulatory reforms, build a conducive environment for investment, which, in turn, drives FDI inflows and promotes sustained economic growth.
  • Human Capital Enhancement: FDI is key for resource transfer, knowledge, and skill enhancement, essential for developing Nigeria's human capital and building capacity. Foreign investors introduce advanced technologies, managerial expertise, and best practices, boosting productivity, efficiency, and competitiveness in local industries. This resource transfer is instrumental in the country's economic transformation and competitiveness on a global scale.

Overcoming Challenges: A Strategic Approach

While AfCFTA harbors the potential to transform Africa's economic landscape, its journey is not devoid of obstacles. Africa is a continent brimming with potential for foreign directinvestment (FDI), thanks to its wealth of natural resources, burgeoning consumer markets, and emerging economies. Yet, unlocking this potential comes with its own set of challenges. Issues such as infrastructure gaps, political instability, regulatory unpredictability, and limited access to financing stand as significant barriers to the success of FDI in the region. Moreover, skills shortages, market fragmentation, and economic fluctuations further complicate the landscape for investors looking to Africa for opportunities.

Historically, there has been a cautious approach toward FDI among African leaders, stemming from concerns over losing political sovereignty, the potential displacement of local businesses by international competition, and the risk of environmental harm, particularly in natural resource-driven projects. Despite these apprehensions, the recognition of FDI as a vital component of economic development has grown. This shift comes amid challenges, including those posed by the global recession's long-lasting impact on FDI inflows to Africa. Notably, Africa's FDI to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and FDI to Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF) ratios outpace those of other developing regions, highlighting the continent's unique position and the challenges it faces.

The pattern of FDI Inflows to Africa has historically aligned with the fluctuations in commodity prices, especially oil, leading foreign investors to scale up their operations in response to high prices. However, the global economic downturn has led to a decline in these prices, adversely affecting FDI flows. Additionally, the potential for lower global growth and diminished profits raises concerns about reduced reinvestment opportunities.

A critical hurdle for African nations is the limited integration of FDI, particularly in natural resource sectors like oil, with local economies. Often, these investments do not encourage downstream activities in the host countries, missing opportunities for broader economic impact. To overcome this, there is a pressing need for African countries to adopt strategies that channel revenues from petroleum and mining into investments in both physical and human capital. Such initiatives aim to spur economic growth and development more broadly by creating linkages between the natural resource sectors and the wider economy.

Complex negotiations, diverse economic conditions, the presence of multiple trade blocs, and non-tariff barriers such as corruption and inadequate infrastructure also pose significant challenges. Despite these challenges, the commitment to Pan-Africanism and the goal of achieving economic integration is clear. By embracing regional cooperation and foreign investment, African nations can enhance trade relations, foster industrialization, and create job opportunities.

A Collaborative Path Forward

While Africa offers attractive avenues for FDI, addressing the multifaceted challenges requires a collaborative effort. By tackling infrastructure deficits, ensuring stability, harmonizing market conditions, responsibly managing natural resources, and investing in human capital, Africa can create a more inviting landscape for foreign investors. This approach not only attracts and retains FDI but also ensures that such investments translate into sustainable development and economic progress for the continent. With strategic planning and a proactive policy approach, African nations can surmount the challenges and secure their position as a leading destination for FDI.

At SimmonsCooper Partners, we understand the legal landscapes that businesses and governments navigate. Our specialized legal services are designed to support investors and African nations in harnessing the continent's vast investment opportunities while ensuring compliance with local and international laws. For more information about how the AfCTA affects you, or to discuss your specific needs, please contact: Temi Koya orMonsurat Lamina.


1. Chantal Dupasquier and Patrick N. Osakwe (2005) - Foreign Direct Investment in Africa: Performance, Challenges and Responsibilities.

2. Riskat Oladoyin S. Dauda Ph.D. (2007) – The Impact of FDI on Nigeria's Economic Growth: Trade Policy Matters.

3. Elsabe Loots, Alain Kabundi (2012) - Foreign direct investment to Africa: trends, dynamics and challenges.

4. https://republic.com.ng/africa-2/african-continental-free-trade-area/#:~:text=The%20AfCFTA%20agreement%20presents%20African,and%20people%20to%20trade%20efficiently.

5. Aigheyisi, O. S., and Iyoha, M. A. (2005)- Implications of the African Continental Free Trade Area for Nigeria's Economic Growth.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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