UP hosts African Continental Free Trade Area training programme for young entrepreneurs

Posted on March 01, 2024

As intra-African trade barriers fall away with the implementation of the long-anticipated African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), young African entrepreneurs are seizing opportunities to build networks and do business across the continent.

The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Future Africa Institute in Hatfield was abuzz with excitement from 21 to 25 February, when about 250 young entrepreneurs and prospective entrepreneurs from across the continent took part in an intensive training programme on the AfCFTA.

The i-Boot Camp, as this biennial event is known, was presented by the Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa (YALDA), in collaboration with partners such as the AfCFTA Secretariat, African Export-Import Bank, Development Bank of Southern Africa, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

It covered a host of essential topics on understanding the AfCFTA, fast-tracking its implementation and exploring export market access for Africa’s youth. Just as important as the formal presentations were the opportunities for young entrepreneurs to network and connect – with one another as well as potential investors and business partners.

As Calvin Makhubela of the Midrand-based Africa Free Trade Agency pointed out, the AfCFTA has the potential to unlock the vast, untapped trading power of the African continent.

African entrepreneurs have room to grow

Only 15% of African trade is intra-continental, compared with 80% in the European Union, about 65% in Asia and 60% in North America. The AfCFTA is making it easier to trade by removing 90% of the barriers to intra-African trade, Makhubela said.

“We need more local small and medium-sized enterprises to participate in the AfCFT; this engagement is a good initiative for young entrepreneurs to learn about entrepreneurship in Africa, and to learn from and appreciate one another.”

Blessing R Mujuru of Ramcan Motors in Marondera in Zimbabwe said he was at the i-Boot Camp to connect with potential partners, collaborators and investors. “This is the first time that I am looking for investors,” he said, explaining that while his business, which employs 15 people, has been growing organically thus far, the time is ripe for expansion. “I want to build a 20-car workshop and invest in new machines,” added Mujuru, who recently completed a master’s degree in strategic management and leadership, and has introduced a training programme for female auto mechanics. “I train and empower young women to repair cars; some are working and some have their own garages.”

Charlotte Mosito, construction entrepreneur from Rustenburg in North West, said she was attending the event to gain knowledge and insight into trade opportunities and funding institutions in South Africa and beyond. “The i-Boot camp was a good introduction to import-export requirements, and the requirements to participate in new markets. So far, so good!”

Making cross-border connections

“This is my market – I couldn’t miss this!” said Bockim Beni Nihoze, founder and chief executive officer of the Trade Legacy Group, which is based in Bujumbura, Burundi, and specialises in cross-border trade, distribution and support for export start-ups.

Ethiopian utility employee and part-time entrepreneur Hermela Gebermllak, whose field is the manufacture of machinery for solar panels, said she was at the event to broaden her knowledge and networks. “There are amazing speakers and I have met many like-minded people.”

Also there to expand her knowledge and networks was Harriet Awata, a businessperson and UNDP associate from South Sudan. “I am hoping to make more connections internationally, and to network and connect with investors. The youth in my country often feel left out when it comes to opportunities such as this,” she said. “I am so excited to be here.”

Dr Heide Hackmann, Director of the Future Africa Institute, highlighted the link between the YALDA i-Boot Camp and the aims and aspirations of the institute and that of UP.

“Future Africa was privileged to host the event, and is excited to explore future collaboration with YALDA, particularly as the platform is moving towards developing a new transformative programme of work on issues of youth education, employment and empowerment,” she said. “In this, and in the spirit of co-creating actionable knowledge that can inform and support transformative solutions to Africa's biggest challenges, young entrepreneurs are essential partners.”

- Author James Mahlokwane

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