A fortnight ago, a delegation from YouLead Africa and its affiliated entities i.e the Independent Continental Youth Advisory Council on AfCFTA (ICOYACA) and the Africa Under 40 CEOs Network (AFRICEN), was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for bilateral and multilateral engagements.
YouLead Africa, Africa’s flagship youth leadership program, is a joint initiative of the MS Training Centre for Development Cooperation (MSTDC) and the East African Community (EAC), which has been at the forefront of efforts to unlock youth leadership potential for a prosperous continent by identifying, connecting and fostering cooperation among Africa’s vibrant and influential young leaders and their initiatives.
Since young people are premised to be the driving force for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), there have been recent efforts by the AfCFTA Secretariat, civic organisations and development partners across Africa to engage youths in the AfCFTA conversation. In this direction, YouLead Africa conducted a pioneering Continental Study on Capacity Gaps, Policy Constraints and Prospects of Youth Inclusion in the AfCFTA.
The findings of this study inspired the formation of the Independent Continental Youth Advisory Council on AfCFTA (ICOYACA) and the Africa Under 40 CEOs Network (AFRICEN). While ICOYACA seeks to mainstream young people in the decision-making and implementation processes of the AfCFTA, AFRICEN desires to be the apex continental umbrella body of youth-led African private sector entities advocating for a youth-friendly business policy environment in the AfCFTA era.
ICOYACA, AFRICEN and the continental AfCFTA Youth Inclusion Report were launched during a virtual ceremony by the Secretary General of the AfCFTA Secretariat, Mr Wamkele Mene, on 29th April, 2022.
It was against this backdrop that the YouLead Africa delegation was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a fortnight ago, to attend an AfCFTA conference by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), themed: “The AfCFTA and Private Sector Engagement. Realizing Africa’s Full Potential.” The conference reviewed progress made in AfCFTA’s implementation, highlighting the significance of the private sector and young people in the process.
Emolot Allan David, chairperson of ICOYACA, while speaking at a panel discussion themed: “Doing Business. Germany, Africa, and the Young Generation” at the KAS-ECA conference, said ICOYACA had already established 44 country chapters and was working to ensure effective youth engagement in the AfCFTA process across all AU member states, whilst also advocating for the realignment of national-level AfCFTA plans to suit youth inclusion.
“Our 550 members will ensure quality data collection which will make the development of learning systems and trade facilitation websites easy. Country chapters prevent misalignment of AfCFTA youth programs, hence enabling at-scale participation of youth in intra-African trade. Our Chapters are the only youth bodies with a strong foundation and a system to harmonize the partners’ competing overlapping framework and initiatives,’’ he said.
David said ICOYACA had in February launched the AfCFTA YouthEngage Series, an informal online forum for trade experts and young business leaders to share their knowledge of AfCFTA and experiences of trading in Africa and the world. Additionally, he said, the Council was currently working towards the establishment of an AfCFTA Women and Youth Academy, which will ensure continuous education of women and youth in trade about AfCFTA’s opportunities.
While speaking about the Addis Ababa mission, Ivan Atuyambe, YouLead’s director, said the KAS-ECA conference also afforded his delegation the opportunity to engage with the African Union Office of Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ-AU) GmbH i.e the German Agency for International Cooperation, YouLead’s partner in the pilot phase of its AfCFTA Youth Inclusion Accelerator Project (AfCFTA-YIAP).
Mr Atuyambe said the major highlights of the meeting with GIZ-AU were the review of the GIZ-AU’s partnership with YouLead on youth engagement in the AfCFTA as well as presentation of copies of YouLead’s landmark AfCFTA youth inclusion study to the director of GIZ-AU office, Dr Inge Baumgarten. After receiving copies of the report, Dr Baumgarten said she was proud of the outcome of AfCFTA-YIAP’s pilot phase while looking forward to how GIZ and other partners could ensure its successes were upscaled.
Atuyambe told African Newspage the YouLead-GIZ meeting deliberated on more strategies for mainstreaming young people in the AfCFTA process, by leveraging the successes recorded by ICOYACA and AFRICEN in the previous months. “YouLead will continue to work with partners around the continent to support the AfCFTA Secretariat’s efforts of making the AfCFTA work for Africa’s young people,’’ he assured.
The YouLead founder hinted they would be hosting an Africa-Europe (Afro-Euro) Youth Trade Facilitation Exchange Forum come August, aimed at fostering the transfer of trade integration experiences between African and European youths, as part of preparations for the full implementation of the AfCFTA. He also said this year’s YouLead Summit, Africa’s most diverse youth forum, will hold December 05-09, 2022, in Arusha, Tanzania.
The YouLead Summit 2022 is themed: “From Policies to Results: Equality, Education, Digital Access and Future of Work”. Hence, discussion on young people’s role in AfCFTA will constitute a huge part of the summit’s Africa Under-40 Business Leaders Forum and focus primarily on how the AfCFTA Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade will open up market opportunities for youth-and-women-led enterprises.
In his remarks at the YouLead-GIZ meeting, Adam Alqali, the West Africa coordinator for the Africa Under 40 CEOs and Entrepreneurs Network (AFRICEN), said while the private sector was meant to drive the AfCFTA’s implementation, most of Africa’s apex business bodies lacked functional youth wings, which puts young entrepreneurs and business owners at the risk of being sidelined in the AFCFTA’s implementation.
Thus, Alqali said it was to guard against the marginalization of youth entrepreneurs and business owners in the AfCFTA era and ensure structural inclusion of youths that plans were currently underway to transform AFRICEN into a full-pledged entity called the African Youth Business Council (AfYBC), which will serve as the apex continental umbrella body of youth-led African private sector entities advocating for youth-friendly business policy environment under the AfCFTA.
“The proposed AfYBC will leverage the entrepreneurial ingenuity of African youth to drive intra-African trade in goods and services, including advocating the removal of major inhibitors to youth entrepreneurs’ participation in intra-African trade, namely NTBs, access to financing, and lack of business skills and awareness. The Council desires to make young people enablers of the realization of a prosperous and inclusive Africa, as enshrined in Agenda 2063,” he concluded.
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