This blog was written by Linda Chepkwony. Linda is a Kenyan student at the United States International University-Africa. She is Founder of Abraham Lincoln Youth Initiative and CEO-Kyle & Ibraheem Limited. Linda is the winner of Zuri Awards, business category 2019 and Winner of 254 Awards, under the export category.
African leaders officially launched the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (also known AfCFTA) during the African Union summit in Niger, July 7, which made the pact the world’s largest free trade area since the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1994.
When fully implemented, the trade deal will create a single market for goods and services by removing existing trade barriers across Africa. CFTA will establish a market of 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP of US$2.5 trillion in Africa. This could be an economic game-changer for the continent.
However, there is a big elephant in the room, which comes in the form of a question on everyone minds. How can the youth of Africa benefit from CFTA?
By 2050, Africa’s youth population is projected to reach 460 million people, six times the size of the youth population of Europe. This demographic shift will be Africa’s biggest challenge, but it also provides its most significant opportunity.
It is expected that the AfCFTA will produce more jobs for Africa’s bulging youth population. This is because extractive exports, on which Africa’s trade is currently based, are less labour-intensive than the manufactures and agricultural goods that will benefit most from AfCFTA (Africa Free Trade Agreement). By promoting more labour-intensive trade, AfCFTA creates more. employment.
So, back to the question at hand, how does Africa’s young population take advantage of the agreement.
There are three immediate and critical steps which need serious attention if we want to truly harness a demographic dividend.
1. Information for our youth
In recent months I have interacted with many young people asking them how they intend to take up export opportunities which the AfCFTA will present. I was presented with the same answer over and over again, what is the AfCFTA? Most of the youth across the continent don’t understand what the CFTA is, let alone where the starting point is, for them to benefit from the agreement. Put, there is no point of pushing the youth to capitalize on the CFTA when they do not even understand it. Information is key. Government and Private sector need to invest a lot on information awareness through sensitization programs.
2. Access to finance
We know that young people on the continent make a large number of small business owners, which means access to finance for our young entrepreneurs is the biggest challenge the face.
Caroline, a young female Kenyan entrepreneur, a dear friend and colleague based in Nairobi who deals with exports of various goods, received a huge order to supply Kenyan Tea to Namibia but due to a lack of capital she couldn’t satisfy the order due to lack of capital. If the public and private sector could support entrepreneurs like Caroline, by giving grants and loans to help her in growing her business. It is essential that these loans be given to young people at lower interest rates. This will allow our youth to scale up their activities since finances will not be a stumbling block for them.
3. Education is key
We need to produce a youth population who are ready for the economy. Educating our youth is a crucial component in achieving success with the Free Trade Agreement. Education is one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against extreme poverty, particularly for girls, who are the hardest hit by poverty. There are 130 million girls across the world are out of school while 56 million are in Africa and don’t have a fair chance to live a decent and productive life, and the entire continent misses out by not benefitting from their potential.”
With the CFTA agreement firmly in place, Africa now has the tools to place itself as a global superpower; it has the potential to be. But to do so, Africa must use its greatest asset, our youth. Only then will we awaken a sleeping giant.