The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has offered opportunity for young people to accelerate Africa’s industrialisation and economic transformation through entrepreneurship, youths say, calling for an enabling policy framework
Through its Youth Protocol, the AfCFTA recognises that young people can play a critical role in the achievement of the free trade zone by initiating youth-led initiatives in agriculture, financial technology, IT and in the creative industry.
However, they note that across the youth-dominant trade areas critical to the AfCFTA, the challenges of infrastructure gap, lack of access to modern technologies, funding, electricity and broadband internet keep the youth on the sidelines of the free trade area.
At an online presentation meeting organised by the Regional Integration and Trade Division (RITD) of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), nine young mentees who have completed RITD’s “Youth for AfCFTA Mentorship Programme”, presented their final assignment to senior staff in ECA. The youth participants highlighted that the AfCFTA presented huge entrepreneurship opportunities for them but that governments need to implement supportive policies and investment to ensure their participation.
Mie Vedel-Joergensen, associate expert in economic affairs, market institutions Section of the Regional Integration and Trade Division (RITD) at the ECA said mentees of the “Youth for AfCFTA Mentorship Programme” are winners of a competition launched in March 2022 which led to the mentorship programme in ECA. The competition with the topic; “The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA): What is in it for young Africans?” was developed by the Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa (YALDA) in collaboration with the AfCFTA Secretariat, Afreximbank, the International Trade Centre (ITC), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and ECA. The competition encouraged participants to develop essays, infographics or animation to communicate the potential impact of the AfCFTA on youth in Africa.
According to YALDA, the competition aimed to break information asymmetry among youth on the AfCFTA and promote a bottom-up approach to the policy formulation and implementation by harnessing innovative youth-driven solutions that will contribute to active youth engagement in the popularisation of the AfCFTA.
Africa also needs to operationalise the Pan African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS), a centralised payment and settlement system for intra-African trade in goods and services developed in 2022. The platform would increase the competitiveness of and investment in youth-dominated start-ups in Africa.
Another group of youth developed an infographic to highlight the benefits of gender inclusion in the AfCFTA. Noting that Sub Saharan Africa was losing an average of US$95bn annually as a result of gender inequality, the youth felt that investment in mobile and digital solutions can bridge the gender gap in Africa where the proportion of women using the internet was 25% lower than men.