Harnessing the potential of the AfCFTA
Introduction: The Potential of the AfCFTA
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement has been described as the continent’s most ambitious regional integration initiative. It establishes a free trade area that will eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade on the continent. African countries which are parties to this agreement will be able to trade in goods and services with minimal or no barriers. It holds promises that were merely ideas decades ago.
The AfCFTA agreement is not a magical concept that guarantees to change Africa’s trade landscape with a wand overnight. The complexities of the agreement show the need for further negotiations and finalisation of crucial aspects like tariff concessions and rules of origin for its whole operation. The implementation of this agreement is expected to create a market of 1.3 billion people, increasing the GDP to over 3.4 trillion USD, lifting millions out of poverty, enhancing intra-African trade and ultimately, regional integration.
Technical experts may analyse how the various protocols and phases of the agreement could work theoretically. Still, the ultimate impact of this agreement will be as a result of firms and regular people who engage in the commercial activities covered under the protocols; and many people just looking to survive, through for example cross-border trade.
The Price of Ignorance
While at the market one weekend to buy foodstuff and other essentials, I kept pondering the AfCFTA, asking myself if these traders know anything about it and what it means to them. How can we prepare Aunty Ope, my ever-cheerful tomato seller, or Chekwube, brilliant guy who makes my footwear, or Fortune, a savvy businessman who solves all my tech problems, for the AfCFTA? How can they take advantage of this agreement to scale their businesses and have a better quality of life?
Access to information is essential. The technical conversations about the AfCFTA on TV and the web do not help these traders and entrepreneurs to understand what is at stake and all we stand to gain if we succeed in its implementation. I grew up in a low-income community filled with petty traders, some of whom were family members. Those businesses had the potential of lifting those families out of poverty, mine inclusive. This agreement and its exciting prospect can make a world of difference for communities like mine.
The Way Forward
Education remains the greatest tool to bridge this gap. Education is not just about school but a comprehensive learning experience that helps people understand the world better. The opportunities that accompany the AfCFTA are not conceivable to many MSMEs because they do not have access to information. Those who may have heard about the agreement are yet to grasp its workings fully. A proper understanding would equip them to position themselves strategically and benefit from the free trade area. This understanding would be engineered through robust investment in education by African governments.
Academics must incorporate conversations about this agreement in the classroom from the undergraduate level, and even school level. The ripple effect will be that discussions about this free trade area can be ignited in the homes, with students becoming tutors of their parents and guardians who would also benefit from its opportunities.
Media houses need to create content in indigenous languages to create awareness about this agreement and spur listeners to think about their roles, ask questions and receive guidance on practical next steps.
The rural areas have untapped markets, with many entrepreneurs who have been doing business before the waves of industrialisation. It is crucial to educate and equip them to bridge the skills and literacy gap so that they can scale their business beyond their local communities.
Advocacy for STEM education has grown in recent times. Rather than an exclusive education on STEM, various disciplines should incorporate their STEM dimensions. This implies that, for instance, lawyers, economists, bankers, educators, agricultural workers are equipped with high-level science and technology that apply to their work and utilise that for greater productivity.
The lack of engagement with individuals and MSME groups limit the potential of this agreement. Africa’s young population is a strength that we must harness strategically for maximum results on the continent. It is time to shift from more conferences on technicalities to proper engagement with young people for whom this agreement holds a brighter future. Inclusiveness is imperative in the regional integration agenda, and education must be the anchor for its success. It is time for a new strategy.
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