On the African continent young people (who constitute more than 60% of the population) are currently faced with numerous debilitating challenges, unemployment being the biggest.  The International Labour Organization (ILO) recently announced that the youth unemployment rate in Africa will exceed 30% by the end of 2019, and young people will continue to be 3.5 times more likely than adults to be unemployed. This revelation has resulted in the increase of development hindering vices such as extremist movements, which lead to political instability, violent crimes and armed robberies, prostitution rates among young women (and of late, young men) leading to increased rates of HIV/AIDS infections; alarming rates of drug and substance abuse among others.       

Having failed to create jobs for a large portion of the continents’ graduates, African countries instead promote entrepreneurship.  However, Africa’s young budding entrepreneurs are often faced with numerous challenges that inhibit the growth of their businesses.  First, the youth are faced with an acute lack of access to funding for their business ideas.  This creates a funding gap where innovative, productivity-increasing and job-creating ideas die before they see the light of day.  Second, the inability to move freely across the continent means highly educated young adults cannot find jobs in countries where their particular skills are needed, creating a double-edged sword where youth remain unemployed and the country in need of their expertise cannot progress given lack of skilled labour.  Lastly, the seemingly insurmountable trade barriers mean that youth enterprises face stunted growth as they are unable to expand to other African countries. 

In March 2018, at the historic meeting of the African Union in Kigali, Rwanda, 54 member states agreed to create the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The AfCFTA–which aims to remove trade barriers and promote free movement of people and capital amongst other goals–came into effect on 30 May 2019, having been ratified by 29 countries.  It has been estimated by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) that the AfCFTA will increase intra-African trade 52.3% by 2022 whilst the elimination of import tariffs will add an additional US$ 70 billion to Africa’s GDP by 2040 and increase consumer spending US$1.4 trillion by 2020.  The AfCFTA is well-positioned to address the main challenges faced by young people in terms of financing, mismatch of skills and employment opportunities across the continent, as well as stunted enterprise growth driven by the inability to trade within Africa.

It is envisaged that the AfCFTA will ultimately impact Africa’s teeming youth population through increased cross-border investment in youth-run enterprises.  By utilising digital financing platforms, together with the creation of a dedicated Investment Fund for youth enterprises, investors from different countries will be matched with enterprise needs across the continent while ensuring the ease of transfer of these funds.  This critical financing will ensure expansion opportunities for these enterprises thereby creating much needed job and economic growth across the African continent.

The Protocol on Free Movement in the AfCFTA will help rectify the mismatch between regions with large numbers of highly skilled youth and those lacking the manpower to fill job opportunities. Young people will be able to travel across the continent in search of opportunities filling the crippling skills deficit.  To further leverage the opportunities presented by the AfCFTA through the free movement of people, investment in up-skilling young Africans through Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-focused trainings etc is crucial.  Additionally, training in the African Union official languages is vital to enable Africa’s youth population to work better and assimilate in other regions other than their own.

Leveraging the AfCFTA, young people will be able to freely export goods while offering digital and other services across the continent without trade restrictions and barriers which will further consolidate Africa’s growth trajectory.  Nonetheless, it is imperative that African governments and private sector find avenues to trade raw materials within the continent in order for young people to develop finished products (with high African content requirements) that are not only made by Africans but are consumed within Africa.  This will undoubtedly help create the desperately needed jobs for youth while simultaneously helping strengthen African economies.

Through the theme “Breaking Information Barriers on Intra-African Trade: Youth Inclusiveness in Implementing AfCFTA,” YALDA seeks to champion the promotion of youth awareness and inclusiveness in the implementation of the AfCFTA, so that African youth across the continent and diaspora can take ownership and drive the vision of a unified single African market through increased stakeholder engagement, workshops and capacity development initiatives.  Through this coordination, YALDA will help actualise the vision of the AfCFTA by creating a feedback mechanism involving the youth attending the i-Boot Camp and other platforms, which will evaluate and measure the successes and challenges of AfCFTA’s implementation among the youthful population of Africa.

The i-Boot Camp will therefore create a platform to engage African youth by training them on the practical steps needed to export their goods and services to other African countries, start enterprises in other countries on the continent, find and secure employment across Africa’s borders as well as utilise various financing tools to fundraise on the continent all while leveraging the provisions of the AfCFTA.  Consequently, this will also foster the use and promotion of the “Made in Africa” brand for the purpose of increasing popularity of goods and services made by Africans for Africans and thus inadvertently contribute to the increase in intra-African trade.