By: Nkosi Sibanda
Africa Day 2023 provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the remarkable progress our continent has made over the years and envision a future of boundless potential. As a youth leader, I am deeply inspired by the theme of this year’s celebration: “Acceleration of AfCFTA Implementation.” This theme not only signifies the commitment of the African Union (AU) to foster economic integration but also emphasizes the pivotal role that young Africans play in shaping the destiny of our continent.
The AfCFTA: A Catalyst for Transformation
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is not only a historic agreement but also a catalyst for transformative change across the African continent. By creating a single market encompassing 1.3 billion people and a combined GDP of approximately $3.4 trillion, the AfCFTA presents immense opportunities for economic growth, job creation, poverty alleviation, and sustainable development.
One of the primary goals of the AfCFTA is to promote intra-African trade by removing trade barriers, such as tariffs and non-tariff barriers. This elimination of barriers will facilitate the movement of goods, services, and investments among African countries, unlocking new markets and expanding economic opportunities. By promoting trade liberalization, the AfCFTA aims to foster a more integrated and interconnected African economy, driving economic diversification and industrialization.
The AfCFTA aligns perfectly with Agenda 2063, the African Union’s master plan to propel Africa to new heights of prosperity and global influence. It serves as a key instrument for achieving the goals outlined in Agenda 2063, including enhancing regional integration, promoting sustainable development, and improving the continent’s competitiveness in the global economy. Through its focus on trade, investment, and economic cooperation, the AfCFTA provides a framework for African countries to collaborate and collectively address common challenges, while leveraging their collective strengths.
The implementation of the AfCFTA offers numerous benefits for African economies. By expanding markets and promoting cross-border trade, African countries can leverage their comparative advantages and enhance their competitiveness in both regional and global markets. This will lead to increased foreign direct investment (FDI), technology transfer, and knowledge sharing, creating a virtuous cycle of economic growth and development.
The AfCFTA also presents an opportunity to accelerate industrialization in Africa. By fostering the growth of domestic industries, the AfCFTA can promote value addition and increase the production of higher-value goods and services. This shift towards industrialization will create employment opportunities, reduce dependence on raw material exports, and enhance the continent’s resilience to external shocks. Additionally, by promoting sustainable and inclusive industrialization, the AfCFTA can ensure that economic growth benefits all segments of society, including marginalized communities and vulnerable groups.
In addition to economic benefits, the AfCFTA holds immense potential for social development and poverty reduction. As trade barriers are dismantled, market access is expanded, and supply chains are integrated, African entrepreneurs and SMEs can thrive and expand their businesses. This growth in the private sector will lead to job creation, particularly for the youth who make up a significant portion of Africa’s population. By providing employment opportunities, the AfCFTA can contribute to poverty alleviation and social empowerment, enabling individuals and communities to improve their living standards and quality of life.
The AfCFTA also promotes regional value chains and encourages intra-African investments. By facilitating the movement of goods, services, and capital across borders, the AfCFTA encourages African businesses to explore opportunities for investment and collaboration within the continent. This shift towards intra-African investments will enhance economic integration, foster knowledge and technology transfer, and promote the development of robust and sustainable supply chains. It will also reduce the continent’s reliance on external sources for goods and services, promoting self-sufficiency and economic resilience.
Youth Aspirations: Empowerment and Inclusivity
As African youth, our aspirations for empowerment and inclusivity within the context of the AfCFTA are of paramount importance. We recognize that our demographic, comprising a substantial portion of Africa’s population, holds tremendous potential to shape the destiny of our continent. It is crucial that we are actively involved in the AfCFTA process to ensure that its benefits are inclusive and accessible to all.
One of our primary aspirations is to have equal opportunities for economic participation and growth. We believe that empowering young people through entrepreneurship, skills development, and access to finance will enable us to unleash our potential as drivers of economic transformation. We urge governments, private sector stakeholders, and development partners to create an enabling environment that supports youth-led initiatives and fosters innovation.
Inclusivity is another key aspiration for us as young Africans. We firmly believe in the principles of gender equality and women’s empowerment. We recognize the immense talent and potential that women bring to the table and advocate for their equal participation in trade activities. We call upon the AfCFTA to prioritize the implementation of the protocol on women and youth in trade, ensuring that women entrepreneurs receive the necessary support, mentorship, and resources to thrive in the business landscape.
Digital transformation is also an area where we see immense opportunities for empowerment and inclusivity. We are aware of the transformative power of digital technologies in driving economic growth, expanding access to education and healthcare, and fostering innovation. Therefore, we advocate for robust investment in digital infrastructure, digital literacy programs, and digital entrepreneurship initiatives. By embracing the digital revolution, we can bridge the digital divide, create digital jobs, and unlock new avenues for economic participation.
Education and skills development are also paramount in equipping us, the African youth, with the tools we need to thrive in the evolving economic landscape. We call for increased investments in quality education, vocational training, and entrepreneurship programs that foster a culture of lifelong learning. Accessible and relevant education will not only equip us with the necessary skills but also nurture our creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities.
To ensure our meaningful participation in shaping the AfCFTA’s implementation, we advocate for platforms for youth engagement and representation. We urge governments and the African Union to establish youth councils, forums, and advisory boards that provide us with a voice and the opportunity to contribute to policy discussions and decision-making processes. Our perspectives, ideas, and aspirations should be considered and incorporated into trade negotiations, policy formulation, and the overall implementation of the AfCFTA.
As African youth, we stand united in our aspirations for empowerment and inclusivity within the AfCFTA framework. We recognize the immense potential that lies within us and urge stakeholders to actively involve us in shaping the future of our continent. By investing in our education, providing access to finance and market opportunities, and fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, we can contribute to the realization of the AfCFTA’s vision and forge a path to prosperity and empowerment for all young Africans.
Inclusive Industrialization and Job Creation
As young Africans, we aspire to see inclusive industrialization and robust job creation as key outcomes of the AfCFTA implementation. We firmly believe that fostering a vibrant and diverse industrial sector is vital for sustainable economic growth and the empowerment of our continent’s youth. By nurturing small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and leveraging the AfCFTA to enhance intra-African trade, we can unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of young Africans and pave the way for inclusive industrialization.
SMEs play a critical role in driving economic development and job creation, particularly for the youth. We advocate for targeted support and tailored policies that enable SMEs to thrive and contribute to industrialization. Access to affordable financing, business development services, and technical assistance are crucial in empowering young entrepreneurs to establish and grow their businesses. Governments and financial institutions should prioritize the provision of youth-friendly financial products, including loans, grants, and venture capital, to facilitate entrepreneurship and innovation.
The AfCFTA presents an unprecedented opportunity to promote intra-African trade, which has the potential to transform our economies and create a wealth of job opportunities. By reducing trade barriers and harmonizing regulations, the AfCFTA will facilitate the movement of goods, services, and investments across African borders. This increased trade integration will spur industrialization by creating larger markets for locally manufactured products and encouraging specialization based on comparative advantages. It will also foster regional value chains and promote collaboration among African countries, leading to the development of regional industrial clusters and the sharing of expertise and resources.
Skills development is a vital component in achieving inclusive industrialization. We advocate for comprehensive and targeted programs that equip young Africans with the technical and entrepreneurial skills needed to thrive in modern industries. By aligning education and training with the needs of industries, we can bridge the skills gap and enhance youth employability. Vocational training, apprenticeships, and internship programs should be strengthened to provide practical experience and on-the-job training, ensuring that young people are well-prepared to enter the workforce.
The AfCFTA’s emphasis on trade in services presents significant opportunities for job creation. Services sectors such as tourism, finance, telecommunications, and information technology have the potential to absorb a large number of skilled and unskilled youth workers. By promoting cross-border trade in services, facilitating the movement of skilled professionals, and harmonizing regulations, the AfCFTA can drive the growth of service industries and create employment opportunities for young Africans.
Inclusive industrialization also means ensuring that no one is left behind. We advocate for measures that address the unique challenges faced by marginalized groups, including women, rural communities, and persons with disabilities. Affirmative action programs, access to finance, and capacity-building initiatives should be implemented to empower these groups to participate actively in industrial activities and benefit from the opportunities created by the AfCFTA.
The private sector has a crucial role to play as well in driving inclusive industrialization. We call upon businesses, both large and small, to embrace social responsibility and invest in youth development. This includes providing internships, mentorship programs, and skills training opportunities. Collaboration between the private sector, government, and civil society organizations is essential to create an enabling environment for youth-led entrepreneurship and promote sustainable industrial development.
Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment
As young Africans, we are passionate advocates for gender equality and women’s empowerment within the context of the AfCFTA. We firmly believe that achieving gender equality is not only a matter of justice and human rights but also essential for unlocking Africa’s full potential and fostering inclusive economic growth. The AfCFTA provides a unique opportunity to address gender disparities and promote women’s active participation in trade and entrepreneurship.
One of our primary aspirations is to see the implementation of the protocol on women and youth in trade within the AfCFTA framework. This protocol recognizes the importance of creating an enabling environment that supports and empowers women entrepreneurs, ensuring their equal access to trade opportunities, finance, and markets. We call upon governments and relevant stakeholders to prioritize the implementation of gender-responsive policies and programs that promote women’s economic empowerment.
To foster women’s entrepreneurship, it is essential to provide targeted support and resources. Access to finance is a critical factor in empowering women entrepreneurs, as they often face challenges in accessing loans, credit, and investment capital. Financial institutions and development partners should design and implement gender-sensitive financing mechanisms that provide affordable and accessible funding for women-led businesses. Moreover, capacity-building programs, mentorship initiatives, and business development services tailored to the specific needs of women entrepreneurs are essential for enhancing their skills and capabilities.
Inclusivity and equal representation in decision-making processes are vital components of gender equality. We advocate for the active participation of women in trade negotiations, policy formulation, and the overall governance of the AfCFTA. This requires creating platforms and opportunities for women’s voices to be heard and their perspectives to be integrated into trade policies and strategies. Governments should strive to achieve gender balance in trade-related institutions and ensure that women’s expertise and experiences are valued and utilized.
Addressing societal and cultural barriers that hinder women’s economic empowerment is crucial. Deep-rooted gender norms, discriminatory practices, and unequal access to resources and opportunities must be challenged and overcome. Education and awareness campaigns that promote gender equality, challenge stereotypes, and empower women to pursue careers in non-traditional sectors can contribute to dismantling gender barriers. Engaging men and boys as allies in promoting gender equality is also essential in creating a more inclusive and equitable society.
Investments in women’s education and skills development are fundamental to their economic empowerment. We call for increased access to quality education and vocational training programs that equip women with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in various industries. Providing mentorship, leadership development, and networking opportunities for women professionals and entrepreneurs can also enhance their career prospects and support their upward mobility.
The AfCFTA should be leveraged to promote women’s economic inclusion and women-led businesses across the continent. By facilitating trade in goods and services, reducing trade barriers, and harmonizing regulations, the AfCFTA can create a conducive environment for women entrepreneurs to expand their businesses and access regional and international markets. Special attention should be given to promoting sectors where women have a comparative advantage, such as agriculture, textiles, and creative industries.
Digital Transformation and Connectivity
African youth recognize the transformative power of digital technology in shaping the future of our continent. The protocol on digital trade within the AfCFTA framework offers tremendous potential for enhancing connectivity, facilitating cross-border transactions, and reducing trade barriers. As youth leaders, we must embrace digital innovation, advocate for robust digital infrastructure, and foster digital literacy to harness the benefits of the digital revolution for all Africans.
To harness the power of digital transformation, it is crucial to prioritize investments in digital infrastructure and connectivity across Africa. This includes improving access to affordable and reliable internet services, expanding broadband networks, and promoting the adoption of digital technologies at all levels of society. Governments, in collaboration with private sector partners, should focus on developing policies and regulations that facilitate digital trade and innovation, while ensuring data privacy and cybersecurity.
For African youth to fully benefit from the digital revolution, it is essential to prioritize digital literacy and skills development. Educational institutions and vocational training centers should incorporate digital skills training into their curricula, equipping young Africans with the knowledge and abilities needed to thrive in the digital economy. Additionally, mentorship programs, incubators, and innovation hubs can provide platforms for youth to develop their digital skills, collaborate on innovative projects, and turn their ideas into viable businesses.
Digital platforms and e-commerce can play a significant role in expanding market access for young entrepreneurs and SMEs. The AfCFTA’s emphasis on digital trade presents an opportunity to create online marketplaces that connect buyers and sellers from different African countries, enabling easier cross-border transactions and fostering economic integration. Governments and stakeholders should invest in the development of secure and user-friendly digital platforms, while also providing support and training to entrepreneurs to effectively utilize these platforms.
Partnerships and Investments: Mobilizing Resources for Youth Development
To turn the aspirations of African youth into reality, strong partnerships between governments, private sector stakeholders, and development finance institutions are essential. Mobilizing investments to improve infrastructure, particularly in transport and logistics, will enhance trade facilitation and enable the efficient movement of goods and services across borders. Moreover, ensuring youth participation in decision-making processes and creating platforms for youth-led initiatives will foster a sense of ownership and agency among young Africans.
Public-private partnerships can play a vital role in mobilizing resources and expertise to support youth development initiatives. Governments can collaborate with private sector companies to establish entrepreneurship funds, mentorship programs, and incubators that provide financial and technical support to young entrepreneurs. Development finance institutions can also play a crucial role by providing affordable financing options tailored to the needs of youth-led businesses and facilitating access to capital for young African innovators.
In addition to financial resources, knowledge sharing and capacity building are essential components of successful youth empowerment. International partnerships and exchanges can facilitate the transfer of skills, knowledge, and best practices between African countries and other regions of the world. Collaboration with academic institutions, research centers, and think tanks can also support the intellectual and academic dimensions of the AfCFTA, ensuring that young Africans have the necessary expertise to contribute to policy development, trade negotiations, and the implementation of the agreement.
Africa Day 2023 celebrates the potential of the AfCFTA to reshape the destiny of our continent. As youth leaders, we stand at the forefront of this transformative journey, driven by our aspirations for empowerment, inclusivity, and sustainable development. The AfCFTA, when effectively implemented, will unlock the full potential of Africa’s youth, propelling us towards a brighter and more prosperous future. It is incumbent upon us, as youth leaders, to seize this historic opportunity and actively contribute to the realization of the AfCFTA’s vision.
As we look ahead, it is crucial to address the challenges that lie on our path to economic integration. Outdated infrastructure, differing regulations, and limited access to finance are hurdles that must be overcome. However, we approach these challenges with unwavering determination, armed with the knowledge that our collective efforts will pave the way for a more interconnected and resilient Africa.
The AfCFTA presents a historic opportunity for African youth to shape the future of the continent. By empowering young Africans through education, skills development, access to finance, and meaningful participation, we can harness their talents, creativity, and energy to drive inclusive and sustainable economic growth. Governments, private sector stakeholders, and development partners must collaborate to create an enabling environment, invest in youth-focused initiatives, and prioritize the aspirations and needs of African youth.
As we accelerate the implementation of the AfCFTA, let us remember that the success of our continent depends on the active engagement and empowerment of its youth. Together, we can forge a path to prosperity and empowerment, transforming Africa into a thriving and globally influential continent driven by the dreams and aspirations of its young people. The time for action is now, and the future of Africa belongs to its youth.