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The largest free trade area in the world, both by area and by population, will formally come into effect on May 30, now that Gambia has become the 22nd country to ratify the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, or AfCFTA.

Expand chart
Adapted from World Economic Forum; Map: Axios Visuals

The big picture: Africa has 1.2 billion people — more than double the EU or NAFTA. Almost every African country has signed the treaty; the one big exception is Nigeria. AfCFTA came together in record time, after first being proposed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame in March 2018. As a result, a lot of the implementation details are a bit fuzzy.

  • "What’s been really impressive is how quickly they’ve agreed to and then ratified the deal," says Grant Harris, the CEO of Harris Africa Partners. "Now the real world begins in terms of how issues are worked through in practice."

Reality check: Africa's trade problems won't be solved overnight. The continent needs some $50 billion per year in infrastructure investment, and truckers are still likely to spend hours or days idling at international borders.

  • By the numbers: The World Bank's Paul Brenton calculated in 2012 that passenger traffic between Brazzaville and Kinshasa — on opposite sides of the Congo River — was just 20% of the amount of traffic between East and West Berlin before the wall came down.

Why it matters: Almost every African country exports more outside the continent than it does within it. African supply chains are extremely weak, and the amount of prosperity that could be generated by strengthening them is enormous. AfCFTA, on its own, is not sufficient to create a booming market in intra-African trade. Still, it's an extremely important milestone on the way there.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear. Read episode 1.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.