At a time when countries across Africa are working to integrate, especially with the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), youth can work beyond their individual countries.
This was observed during the on-going YouthConnekt Africa summit in Kigali.
So far, 22 countries have ratified the AfCFTA pending implementation next year.
Kituyi Mukisa, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), argued that AfCFTA reflects the true importance of multilateralism.
“At a time when major trade players are drifting apart – a growth of new nationalism – the African Continental Free Trade Area represents a unique step in the other direction,” he noted on the sideline of the summit.
“Africa’s trade with the rest of the world is 15 percent value-added, Africa’s trade with Africa is 40 percent value-added. What it means is that more jobs are created when we trade with other African countries because we add value to what we sell to other Africans.”
Mukisa believes creating momentum for greater exports to Africa represents a greater return in terms of employment and opportunities for entrepreneurs, highlighting that the biggest problem faced by Africa is gainful employment for its youth.
“So, anything that adds to the momentum of new opportunities for development, sustainable entrepreneurship and wealth creation for the continent is a major step in the right direction,” he said.
However, there are major challenges that come with integration.
Unlike in Europe, where the biggest boys in the bloc – Germany, and France – have been driving the European Union integration process, in Africa, the big boys are not leading from the front.
Out of the 55 countries in Africa, only Eritrea has not signed the AfCFTA.
Eric Kacou, the Chief Executive Officer at ESPartners, noted that the AfCFTA was a mechanism to realize the untapped potential the continent has.
“We have a monopoly on untapped potential (in Africa). What we are looking for (with AfCFTA) is a mechanism to turn the potential into prosperity through entrepreneurs,” he said.
“I get analysis paralysis when I think about all the opportunities that are there,” he added, highlighting that in the next five to ten years, more than 650 million people will own smartphones in Africa.
At the same time, he said, tourism between African countries will grow in the same period by 150 percent.
“The young people should look at which opportunities they want to pursue and demonstrate the stamina to stick with it. If you are going to upgrade, you cannot do it with the mindset that you come from a small or landlocked country,” he said.
Kacou suggests that if countries start implementing the AfCFTA, more unicorn businesses will be produced from small countries.
Young African entrepreneurs like Gerald Chirinda, the CEO of Tapiwa Capital, generally, are becoming aware that operating within their individual countries only will not be a choice.
“As entrepreneurs increase their operations, you need to appreciate the fact that you are operating beyond borders,” he said.
On the other hand, he believes governments have a role to ensure that such businesses are sustainable.