African Continental Free Trade Area - The Opportunity Africa Offers

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a single, duty -free, Quota free market covering the African Continent. Trade is key to Africa’s growth. Africa with all the enormous resources has about 2.6% of all world trade as at 2018 (Afriexim Bank report, 2019).

According to United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, implementation of the AfCFTA could increase Intra - Africa trade from the current 17 to 52% by 2022. This is a huge opportunity for the growth of African Economies. The main objectives of the AfCFTA are to facilitate Intra - African trade, promote regional value chains to foster the integration of the African Continent into global economy, to encourage competiveness and innovation whilst boosting industrialization, and to ultimately contribute to Africa’s Economic development and progress. At Absa, we believe in Africanacity – that is, finding innovative ways to get things done in the midst of challenges.

This describes how the African always finds ingenious ways to do things. Hence, our commitment to partner Africa to realize the growth and opportunities AfCFTA presents, this to us is Africanacity. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses and sectors differently across the regions, it is worthy to note some highlights of key significance.

The hospitality sector, due to border closures and reduction in international travel, tourism and entertainment has adversely been impacted whilst technology services providers are seeing growth as people embrace the new normal, where organizations have employees working from home, students learning online. In addition, though the pandemic disrupted global supply chain, it also presents an opportunity for countries to look at rebalancing overreliance on global suppliers in favor of more competitive regional and local manufacturers. This presents a huge opportunity for our local manufacturers. This is the time for local and regional manufacturers to collaborate to increase market share. As Michael Kottoh of Konfidant puts it- Covid -19 presents a huge opportunity for us in Ghana and Africa to pursue a “Made in Africa” Revolution.

In this paper, I will focus on five essential opportunity areas in Africa, and suggest steps that African Governments, Policy makers, Private Sector, The Youth, Financial institutions and Investors can take to translate the opportunities into profitable, sustainable enterprises for Africa’s growth.

1. Africa’s Youthful Population and Education

The first opportunity in sight is Africa’s youthful population and education. Africa’s youthful population presents a powerful opportunity for accelerated economic growth and innovation.

While other World regions face an aging population, the average age in Africa is 19.7years, compared to Asia’s 31 years and Europe 43 years (Worldometer, 2020). Africa will have the largest workforce by 2040, surpassing India and China, and the million-dollar question is how we will harness this opportunity? Key focus areas to harness these opportunities are but not limited to education and training for the youth. African Governments need to be deliberate about harnessing the potential of the youthful population in Africa to play a key role in the growth of the continent.
 
In addition to the above, governments need to relook at their human capital development budgets. Ghana is making positive strides in this regard with the Free Senior High School Program and as a forward-looking people; Ghana is focusing on Tertiary and Vocational education, as they are critical for skill development. The benefits of investment in human capital are enormous as it makes Africa the workforce for the world, by exchanging services for revenue. Key skill sets required to achieve this are; critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, and value addition training and entrepreneurship skills.
 
With the right investments made into human capital development using education as the tool, Africa can improve both the supply and quality of skills needed for competitiveness and job creation.
 
Promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in African youth cannot be overemphasized. Investors and governments must support such young talents with funding and the necessary resources to help their businesses thrive. Partnership of existing well-established manufacturing companies with start-ups will provide a great advantage for them to upscale, expand production, access to market and network.
 
Absa’s StartUp Banking aimed at supporting the fast-growing Ghanaian StartUp ecosystem by equipping startup businesses with relevant business skills and knowledge to scale up their business, provide them with relevant financials solutions and support job creation for economic growth. We are also committed to bringing the possibilities of Africa’s youth to life. Our ready to work proposition has trained almost 500,000 young Africans –training them with soft skills for improving their employability or self-employment prospects, with 25,000 young Africans benefitting from workplace experience, internships and placement opportunities. We have invested over US$52 million in education and out of that, US$29 million was invested into over 10 000 scholarships across 100 African universities, including 13 universities in Ghana. Over 10,000 Small and Medium Enterprises have been trained on business strategies and best practices to grow their businesses.

2. Huge Potential for industrialization

Africa is a continent beaming with a myriad of growth opportunities. From the abundance of agriculture, about 60% of arable land and mineral resources, to the fast-growing population and markets, which present important opportunities for industrialization.  

We can achieve this by leveraging on our abundant natural and human resources – Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire alone make up 60% of the world’s, cocoa and Ghana the leading gold producer in Africa. There is also a need to increase local production to reduce our import bill as a continent. Even in these uncertain times with the impact of COVID-19 affecting global trade, we see many Ghanaian industries rising to the occasion to innovate to meet growing demand. One of such notable local manufactures is Ernest Chemist who has increased production of the Nester hand sanitizers to meet demands for sanitizers. We must take advantage of low hanging fruits to boost industrialization.

A focus on processing and value addition presents an opportunity for us to add value to rich raw materials as we process, package and transform them for domestic consumption and export. Examples of some commodities we can add value to are cotton for textiles and apparels, cocoa for chocolates - Ghana produces some of the best quality cocoa in the World.Ghana and Africa abound in maize, millet and other cereals, these can be processed in our breweries to produce a low cost beer market due to the readily available starch crops such as Maize, Cassava, and Sorghum.

Again, Africa has about 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land. We must change the narrative of food being one of our major imports in Africa. According to AfDB report on industrialize Africa, consumer spending will double to $1.4 trillion by 2020 and increase to $2.1 trillion by 2025 by 2030, demand for food in urban areas will reach $1 trillion. Africans must be manufacturers and not only consumers. Within the next 50 years, the label made in Africa would be as popular as made in China and we must aim for this and more.
 
Opportunity 3: Infrastructure and Urbanization

The third area of opportunity Africa presents is Infrastructure and Urbanization. The intra-Africa trade presents us with an opportunity to be interconnected although we must admit we have some gaps. According to the African Development Bank, to unleash Africa’s economic potential, there is a need for about $170 billion investment every year in infrastructure. However, while Africa’s infrastructure still lags behind, there is still opportunity for Africa to make significant progress, for instance; Governments and entrepreneurs must capitalize on the infrastructure gap in order to create jobs and retain capital in Africa i.e. award contracts to more local contractors. Africa has the second-highest urbanization rate in the world and by 2050, 56% of its population will be urban. Economic studies reveal that in the next 10 years, Africa’s 20 biggest cities are expected to grow by 50%. This presents new opportunities in infrastructure development.
 
4. Investment Opportunities- Role of Financial Sector

There are wide ranges of opportunities that are opening up in Africa’s financial services space. They include bill payments, bulk disbursement, international remittances, merchant payments, mobile banking, person-to-person transfers, peer-to-peer lending, micro lending, micro insurance, and several other interesting opportunities.
 Africa has a well-developed financial sector that can:
De-risk investments for the Private Sector
Leverage on Capital Markets to raise funding
Mobilize capital for development
Export Credit backed transactions
5.     Design infrastructure funding platforms i.e.- crowd funding
6.     Partnership with export credit agencies on equipment supply
 
With the industrial and infrastructural opportunities that the AfCFTA will promote, Africa’s financial services sector will be relied on to provide the credit and necessary support for key industries to progress.
This is where the Absa Group comes in.  For over 100 years, we have demonstrated our long-term commitment to the continent by being book runners, arrangers, or lenders for multiple development projects across the continent. Transactions including leading the biggest single day domestic currency issuance in sub-Saharan Africa – the $2.25bn issuance in 2017.

In Construction and Manufacturing sphere, we are a partner bank for the One District, Once Factory (1D1F) program providing financing across multiple industries. We played key role in providing funds to support the Ghana Road Fund Secretariat for the construction and maintenance of major road highways. Eg. Tema Motorway. In Uganda for example, we have collaborated with the government to construct a specialized hospital facility. We have also supported industrialization massively across Africa by funding for rail network projects in South Africa and development of port facilities in Mozambique, to cite a few.
 
5. The Technological Wave

Finally, yet importantly, Technology is a key opportunity area for Africans to tap into as the AfCFTA kicks off. At Absa, we are a digitally led bank and pride ourselves with our ability to meet our clients’ financial needs using digital solutions to bring them speed and convenience. According to a McKinsey Global Banking report (2018), Africa is the hotbed for innovation and 40% of Africans prefer to use digital channels for transactions. Governments and the private sector must therefore deliberately support fintechs and other tech startups to grow and scale up, hence Absa’s startup banking to give Small and Medium Scale Enterprises the needed boost to succeed in the fourth industrial revolution.
The below are essential pointers on why it is essential for government and private sectors to take a keen interest in technology.

a)     Increased Mobile Penetration and connectivity.

§  Sub-Saharan Africa as at 2019 had a 44% smartphone penetration with 26% mobile data traffic across the continent and this penetration rate is expected to grow by 9.7% by 2025 (GSMA Mobile Economy Statistics, 2020). It is also worthy to note that most of the innovation in mobile technology came from Africa.
§  Similarly, an article from the Harvard Business Review press, 2018, reveals that Africa has more than 120 million active mobile money accounts, over 50 percent of the global total; this trend will allow companies to improve productivity, speed up transactions, and access wider markets, and could add $300 billion to the continent’s GDP by 2025.
 
b)    Online and Mobile Banking

§  With the spread of mobile phones and internet across Africa, the continent’s entrepreneurs are leveraging technology to deepen financial access in innovative ways and banks are no different. Absa’s Chat banking, Vertical Cards for all online transactions and our Absa Access digital platform, which provides convenience for salary payments and remote banking has redefined our way of banking.
 
§  At Absa, we have user-friendly mobile banking platforms, which we are used in boosting Financial Inclusion for Africa and making banking attractive for the unbanked population in Ghana. Absa’s Trade Management Online channel is a secure online electronic banking platform aimed at small, medium, large and corporate customers. The channel provides a platform for clients to initiate, receive and manage the full lifecycle of the current trade finance products and services across Africa, indeed a much-needed solution for the global village our world is evolving.
 
Role of Technology Adoption for Economic Growth
 
·       Technology is key to the economic growth of every nation and as mentioned earlier, it is a known fact that Digital growth is directly proportional to the GDP growth of a country. Our governments and private sectors must therefore collaborate and create local digital solutions relevant to our economic needs. This in essence will create efficiency in the system, freeing up resources and money to be channeled into other areas of economic development.
 
·       The private sector is seen to be using technology efficiently, the public sector is however making positive strides in this regard by utilizing technology to streamline and ease some of the internal process that are manual and cumbersome. Examples of these are; the digital registration of businesses, filing of taxes and digital address systems, and I must say the government has done greatly with the current Digital Address system, and paperless port initiatives.
 
 
·       We must use technology to bridge the inequality gaps and bring an ease to doing business in our countries. Tech giants like Facebook, have now acquired WhatsApp and are in works to roll out a payment platform. This will have a huge impact and coverage, and if care is not taken, all these foreign corporations and innovations may swallow up Africa.
 
In summary digitization — (the mass adoption of connected digital services), has emerged in recent years as a key economic driver that accelerates growth and facilitates job creation.
 
Conclusion

Africa’s 55 countries are diverse in terms of population, stability, and development level and growth rates. However, with integration and collaboration, we can create self-sustainable and profitable economies that will benefit all. We must continue in our ingenuity and authentic approaches to getting things done. At Absa, we call this Africanacity, we are ready to play our role in helping Africa, and AfCFTA succeed! Africa needs a new attitude. We need to change the way we think, and consciously change our behavior. We have the resources to industrialize; we have the power to create employment for our youth. We must look within.  Africa’s economy will develop if we can rise up and do something ourselves, because what Africa needs now, is integration and collaboration, not aid!


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