Members of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) have backed President Paul Kagame's call for the August House to throw their weight behind the speedy ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
Opening the two-week session of the legislative body of the AU in Kigali on Monday, the Chairperson of the African Union sought the support of the House in the speedy ratification of the AfCFTA, the protocol on the free movement of persons, and other key pillars of Agenda 2063.
Agenda 2063 is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent.
So far, 48 countries have signed the agreement but only about five have ratified it.
PAP members who spoke to The New Times in an exclusive interviews welcomed Kagame's call.
MP Julius Malema from South Africa.
Julius Malema (South Africa) said: "We agree with him entirely. The more we fast-track the process of free trade and the movement of persons in the continent, the better because ours should be to strive for one Africa and one trading arrangement."
"We support entirely what the Chairperson said; we know that many countries have not signed and many of them are not showing a lot of interest in speeding up the process towards free trade and free movement of persons in the continent but we are confident that, gradually, we'll get there," said the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a South African opposition party.
Malema reasoned that Agenda 2063 will be achieved through small interventions that are being made.
For instance, he added, the AU Chairperson's intervention and stand on free trade "is one step in the right direction."
"We are now seeing leaders of the continent committing that Africa should trade with itself in order to grow its economy because it has got sufficient potential to ensure that we maximise the [benefit] from our own natural and mineral resources," Malema said.
MP Thomas Solomon Segepoh (Sierra Leone) said Kagame's appeal to PAP "was in order."
"It is unfortunate that not all Heads of State are seeing what he is seeing. As a matter of fact, the free trade agreement, in Africa particularly, is the best thing to do for the peoples of Africa because if Africa has to develop we must not have barriers when it comes to trade. We must not have inhibiting factors, you know, to our interactions, especially when it comes to trade."
Segepoh, who is the Deputy Speaker of Sierra Leone's Parliament, also told The New Times that Kagame as Chair of the AU, could also have a better appeal to his colleagues.
"I know, of course, he is relying on members of parliament to lobby, in a way. But he is also in a strong position as Chairman to have the best appeal to his colleagues."
MP Loide Lucky Kasingo (Namibia) said: "It is very good because you see, I am from a very small country [Namibia], in size, of five million people and if this happens it will benefit all those small countries to ensure future Africa trading within itself rather than trading with Europe as sometimes the things [from Europe] are very expensive".
"The continental free trade agreement is good for Africa. Trade barriers should be removed and should go hand in gloves with the movement of goods and persons".
MP Barbara Rwodzi (Zimbabwe) said: "I think it is a great move for the Chairman of the African Union to come and ask for the fast-tracking of free trade in Africa. Why? I feel that though Africa is one family and we should open up to each other in terms of trade, the economy of Africa has to be driven by Africans".
Rwodzi, a Zimbabwean lawmaker with vast business experience, said that it "is very critical for all the economies in Africa to easily trade with each other" and emphasised that it is through national legislatures that such agendas can be pushed to fruition.
MP Jean Népomuscène Sindikubwabo (Rwanda) explained that the AfCTA ratification process has to go through each African country's national parliament and, as such, PAP members have a vital role to play.
"We think lawmakers in the Pan-African parliament can play a positive role back home in their respective countries," said Sindikubwabo.
"Many of us are very influential back home. But we don't seem to be doing much. So, let us pull up our socks and do something," observed MP Fidèle Rwigamba (Rwanda).