Founder and CEO of Africa’s premier mentorship and skills development organisation, African Women in Supply Chain Association (AWISCA), Lebo Letsoalo, has advised economic champions in Africa to see the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement as an opportunity to create jobs for the teeming unemployed youths in the continent. Letsoalo, who is also the managing director of the supply chain advisory and consultancy firm, SincPoint and also a supply chain coach, said in her report in Bizcommunity, that AfCFTA represented a unique opportunity for African economies to achieve integrated and sustainable growth.
According to her, this has the potential to reduce the high joblessness rate that has recently skyrocketed due to the detrimental effects of COVID- 19. The chronic youth unemployment on the continent currently sits at 20.8 per cent and in South Africa, particularly, the rate is 63.30 per cent. Describing the situation as a ticking time bomb (which also has Nigeria’s unemployment rate at over 33 per cent), she said across the continent, AfCFTA is seen as an important milestone that has the potential to improve the economic fortunes of the region and to energise its socioeconomic objectives through industrialisation and the strengthening of regional and interstate cooperation.
“By easing some of the industrialisation constraints, the regional economy can generate more than sufficient jobs and reduce the youth unemployment rate. Already, the labour force on the continent is expected to increase to 119 million by 2030, with new entrants to the workplace increasing from 2.3 million to 3.6 million.
“While this is great and promising news, AfCFTA may not exactly live up to its potential if the basics such as education, beneficiation and infrastructure are not prioritised,” she noted. AfCFTA was founded in 2018 with trade commencing officially on January 1, 2021. It was created by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement among 54 of the 55 African Union nations. The free-trade area is the largest in the world, boasting the biggest number of participating countries since the formation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Letsoalo observed that ultimately, the success of AfCFTA would primarily depend on the capacity of the African governments to tap into the potential of the youthful human capital. According to her, “for the AfCFTA agreement to achieve this, it requires the youth of the continent to be active in the whole process. Africa’s population today consists of over 60 per cent people under the age of 25, 56 per cent of which are of working age. This young population, according to the World Bank, is set to rise from 1.3 billion to two billion by 2040.
“In fact, 75 per cent of Africa’s population are youth. It has become crucial for young people to be actively involved in the successful implementation of AfCFTA. “It’s a perfect situation for the continent: a massive human capital and a free-trade area. However, without adequate skills, infrastructure and a strong manufacturing sector, AfCFTA cannot be effectively implemented. Whilst this is a great opportunity for the regional economy, it also risks stagnation if the fundamentals are not addressed as a matter of urgency.” She said AfCFTA presented a great opportunity for entrepreneurs and businesses across the continent, adding that this also allowed for governments to address chronic youth unemployment through domestic industrialisation.