Why the coming into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) is a boost for the Africa Union’s Youth Agenda

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was launched on July 7th, 2019 in Niamey, Niger, by African Heads of State and Government at an extraordinary summit of the African Union (AU). The AfCTFA is a free trade area mooted by African governments. The AfCFTA is the world’s largest free-trade area in terms of number of countries participating ,since the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The mere fact that the AfCTFA was negotiated over a record 24 months, and ratified by ratified record 54 of the 55 of the African states in 14 months after its initial signature on 21 March 21st, 2018 in Kigali underlines Africa’s commitment to opening up its markets and borders to foster intra-Africa trade, and economic integration at a time when multilateralism and economic integration seem to be on the retreat in the international order.

Why is the coming into force of the AfCFTA a watershed event for Africa, governments, and the youth? The agreement initially requires members to remove tarrifs from 90% of goods, allowing free access to commodities, goods, and services across the continent. The United Nations Commission for Africa (UNECA) estimates that the agreement will boost intra-African trade by a whooping 52% by the year 2022. This impetus towards closer economic integration is poised to change Africa forever. It also is about developmental integration, designed to promote structural transformation, lifting millions out of poverty, rather than being a traditional Free Trade Area agreement (FTA) focused on market liberalization.

The agreement covers goods and services, and has complementary programs for infrastructure, industrialization, agriculture modernization, small scale trade, as well as innovation, intellectual property, competition and investment. Lastly, the AfCFTA creates a common market in Africa with a combined GDP of US$6.7 trillion in purchasing power parity, business and annual consumer spending of US$ 4 trillion, is home to over 400 companies with revenues of over US$1 billion, comprises 60% of the world’s arable land and vast reservoirs of natural resources.

The AfCFTA dovetails very well with the AU’s Agenda 2063. Agenda 2063 was launched in the year 2013 by African Heads of States and Government during the 50-year Jubilee celebrations of the AU, is a 50-year blueprint and master plan to transform Africa into a global powerhouse by the year 2063. Agenda 2063 is a 50-year plan agreed upon by all members of the continental body in 2013.

However, six years after African government’s agreed on Agenda 2063, there is very little awareness about this transformative strategic framework amongst key constituencies within the continent, especially the youth. Agenda 2063 encapsulates not only Africa’s aspirations for the future but also identifies key flagship programmes which can boost Africa’s economic growth and development , and lead to the rapid transformation of the continent. The Youth are Africa’s future, comprising 60% of its population of 1.7 billion people by 2030, but they continue being sidelined in policy-making, execution and implementation of both government and private-sector programmes and investment projects.

In 2013, Africa had 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 (the youth bracket), making the African continent host to the youngest population in the world. This population is expected to, ceteris paribus, double by 2045, according to the 2012 Africa Economic Outlook report by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the industrialized countries’ Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), among others, and stand at 3 billion people by 2063. This means that Africa will be home to 30% of the global population by 2063, up from the current 10%. These are profound demographic transformations. 70% of this population will be youth.
Although African economies have been on the ascendancy in terms of economic growth, even as global economic growth and outlook slows down, courtesy of a slowdown in China, the Eurozone, Japan and the US – six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), but nevertheless the youth suffer from high levels of unemployment rate of as high as 6%, according to the AfDB, compared to the world average of 5%. It is a settled fact that youth unemployment “occurs at a rate more than twice that for adults,” according to the AfDB, meaning that youths account for 60% of all unemployed Africans, according to the World Bank. There are regional disparities however, with North Africa having a youth unemployment of 30%, and this figure is estimated to be higher in several Southern African states like Zimbabwe.
But these figures are an understatement as these statistics belie the fact that Africa’s unemployment statistics exclude those in vulnerable employment and those who are underemployed in informal sectors. “Young people [in Africa] find work, but not in places that pay good wages, develop skills or provide a measure of job security,” reports the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based public policy organization that conducts independent research. More than 70% of the youth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda are either self-employed or contributing to family work, and with about 10 million to 12 million young people joining the labour market each year, this exacerbates the productive employment challenge.

Previous efforts to address the African youth challenge have not been very successful. In 2009, the AU addressed itself to this challenge by declaring 2009–18 the “African Youth Decade” and resolved to mobilize resources, including from the private sector for youth development. Their plan of action emphasized the need to address both unemployment and underemployment. While the current Agenda creates a long-term 50-year development trajectory and identifies a tangible roadmap to redress the situation, it is hoped that African governments and the private sector will leverage the vast opportunities unleashed by the AfCFTA to bring down structural and systemic barriers hindering the employment and productive employment of the youth in enterprise. Non-tariff barriers to trade, it is hoped, will also be minimized, if not eliminated, to lower the cost of entry of youth and SMEs into private-business. Technology, higher and affordable connectivity, better infrastructure, upskilling, and easier migration policies and friendly border controls should also play a key role in enabling youth, and labor, to secure productive, and remunerative employment or to start their own businesses. Technology especially is expected to address the perennial challenges of access to markets, capital, skills, timely information and technical solutions given the growing penetration and usage of smart phones on the continent

In the end however, it is incumbent upon governments to move beyond paying lip-service to the youth bulge and unemployment crisis in Africa, walk the talk by creating a targeted, and harmonized set of incentives to kickstart African youth on their journey to self-fulfillment; upholding the tenets of the Africa Youth Agenda charter.

Public Policy Department

The true colour of your Brand

What is the real color of apple juice? Is it black, brown, or gold? I posed this question to a few colleagues in the office and the responses I got were very interesting. One said that apple juice is the color of ‘strong tea’ if you are an African you can relate. Other responses were; color of beer, brown, golden brown, dark brown almost black! From these responses, it is clear that people see things in different perspectives depending on how they have interacted with them
It is the same way people perceive brands. What is the ‘colour’ of your brand? What ‘colour’ does your target market associate your brand with? The responses that will be given will be based on the kind of interaction the target market has had with your brand. If they experienced poor customer service or they love your products and services, or how efficient your company is then they will give the ‘colour’ in relation to that. The question we should be asking ourselves is, What ‘color’ do we want people to see of us?

PR is about building the reputation of a company in order to win more customers and to retain the ones we already have. PR might be talking of how efficient, caring, industry leader with best products and services your company offers but on the contrary, your company could not be practising them hence the target audience get a different ‘color’ of your company. As George Bradt wrote, “They won’t believe what you say. They will believe what you do. It only works when what you believe, do and say align.” For PR to be effective, companies should strive to give their best to the target market consistently.

A story was once told of a restaurant that offered good service to its customers on the initial days after its establishment however, as the months went by, customers started reducing in number as a result of poor customer service and some were complaining how the quality of food has gone down. Eventually, the restaurant closed down. The news information was contrary to the services being offered and as a result, customers got a different ‘colour’ of the restaurant. Nothing kills credibility faster than not practising what is preached. If the restaurant had practised what they preached consistently, it would have retained its original ‘color’.

Therefore it is important that we professionals set good examples that will translate into positive public acceptance. You can do little things like greeting your colleagues or customers well, presenting yourself to the pubic in a clean professional manner, being courteous and even doing something as simple as appreciating every act of kindness from other people. These all contribute to clearing up poor stereotypes that might be held by the public. Remember PR is about reputation.
What is the true ‘color ’of your brand?

Live a plastic-free life

People can be so pushy. I know, it sounds like this is going to be one long whining session, but I promise you it’s not. I had to put that out there because that’s how I feel today. Pushed, forced out of my corner (where I was sulking) like toothpaste from a tube. I didn’t want to do anything because I was in my corner curled like a baby, thumb in mouth – ok scratch that, for some reasons it has an underlying tone that’s not childish at all – let’s stick with me curled in the corner sulking.

There’s been no coffee in the office for about two weeks and the effects were so evident. My colleagues are walking around with sad faces and plastic smiles. Nekesa, the ever bubbly office noisemaker, stopped coming, Solomon sits at the corner and says nothing while Paul now shows up every day. Since the coffee ran out, the guy has been here every day. This is something worth looking into closely. Such strange behaviour. Then there’s the ‘we eat healthy’ team. The avocado girl (that’s Lulu by the way) and the ‘nduma’ girl (that’s the one who sits next to Lulu) and for the life of me I can’t remember what ‘nduma’ is in English, but they are amazing. Yes I tasted them, well actually ate half of what she’d brought for lunch. Oh then there’s the little person, sits right behind me, and the tall one, who sits right at the door. And she’s maasai. I wonder whether she was placed there on purpose. I know what you’re thinking, and that’s on you. Allan and Allan, sit together. One is big and one is small, and they sit in that order from the door. Please note these sizes were prescribed by a lady. The tall one at the door. And so that’s the office gang.

Why did I describe the office gang, well it’s been hell the last two weeks. The kind of hell that’s caused by plastics clogging the drainage system in this city Nairobi. If NEMA officials (that’s the environmental authority, I just thought you should know) were to walk into this office they’d shut it down. The amount of plastic smiles and handshakes that went round, oh my plastic. It was so plastic the cleaning lady changed (I hear the previous one was put in a family way, I wonder if it’s by someone in the office, could it be? There’s quite some young blood, two suspects to be precise) and the one who comes now seems plastic. She scares me the way she smiles at me every time she brings in the cups. Long plastic smile. But then shouldn’t we be used to the plastic lives we live? From bottles to money, we’ve become so plastic that our immunity to pollution and the discomfort it brings has grown. And the filth builds up, entrenching itself in the way we govern and do business. So plastic are we that we don’t realise the pain this filth causes.

Well as we celebrate the world environment day this week, it should have been a whole week celebration, let’s rid ourselves of this plastic life. Let’s clean up the environment and our hearts too. Let’s smile more, for real this time, and warm the world (the office in this case) and we can all make it a better place to be in.
Tom ‘the money guy’ Kahehura is here, we got coffee yesterday, Nekesa is back, Paul is still here and we can hear Solomon speaking from the corner. Oh what magic the coffee brings. Hezron is missing, someone needs to find him. Allan and Allan are still next to each other, the little person is still behind me and the tall one is there at the door. Team ‘healthy eating’ are still next to each other. But you know what the most amazing difference is?

No more plastic.

Have plastic free day.