Business experts have challenged the African youth, the continent's biggest market, to consume products made in Africa if the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) Agreement is to be successfully implemented.
According to some leading African entrepreneurs, trade and business experts, the profile of African products will be enhanced once Africans place them on top of their preferential list.
The push for "Made in Africa First" came to the fore during a panel discussion on CFTA at the ongoing Youth Connekt Africa Summit in Kigali.
The conversation sought to explore the benefits of the historic CFTA deal that was signed by African Heads of State and Government in Kigali early this year.
"Right now, CFTA is at the signing phase and then ratification phase will follow. But after that, the actual challenge is about implementing," said Issam Chleu, Managing Director of Suguba Ltd.
The Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS) has similar trading arrangements, he said, yet it is still difficult to move goods between the member states because the existing laws are not enforceable.
"We need to have a consumer mindset shift. If today Africans decided that we are going to consume Made-in-Africa before anything thing else, it would be one big way to push African products to a desired level," Chleu added.
Chleu's assertion resonated with what was said by Rwanda's Prime Minister.
About 70 per cent of Africa's population is under the age of 30, Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente said, suggesting that with Africa's population projected to double by 2050, "we are the youngest continent".
"Therefore, any plan for improving the future of Africa, must factor in the role of young people."
Andy Mold, Development Economist, from UN Economic Commission for Africa, observed that CFTA is not about trade but creating access, free movement of people, goods and services.
"Given that Africa's majority population are the youth, they are the ones to make the CFTA happen in the continent," he said.
Delegates follow a panel discussion on CFTA during the Youth Connekt Africa Summit in Kigali yesterday. Nadege Imbabazi.
Chleu further stated that African market needs high quality consumer goods produced locally first, before looking into more sophisticated products.
In so doing, he added, there will be a sustainably growing desire for Made-in-Africa products and slowly phasing out imported products.
"Africa consumes about $400 billion every year buying clothes and food, so I would encourage the entrepreneurs in the room and across the region to look into products that the common African needs and those are the projects that banks would love."
Learning from regional blocs
Dorothy Tembo, the Deputy Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, said that for the continental free trade agreement to have an impact, it has to pick lessons from best practices from functioning regional integration projects.
"A number of regions which are recognised under the African Union have had advanced negotiations over the years aimed at putting in place free trade in their area. For example in COMESA, the free trade area was established in 2000 as was the case with SADC," she noted.
"Now, my issue", she noted, "is that if we are putting forth a Continental Free Trade Area that understandably brings together a considerable additional number of countries, specifically 55, the negotiations are going to be complex."
She added; "I believe that the idea should not be to replicate what has been done but find harmonisation elements and build on them. We are broader in terms of ambitions, the landscape has changed to some extent and we should be forward looking in that aspect."
For CFTA to work, Chleu said, there is need for Africans to promote common identity and unity.
"Ultimately, the reason behind CFTA is Pan-Africanism and we want to see Africa that trades African and Africans trading with each other. We don't want to export our natural resource to Europe for it to get some blessings and then come back to Africa 10 times higher the initial price."
He added that; "That's the ultimate vision; for us to get back our dignity and to take ownership of our natural resources and ensure that we have the capability and skills to make it happen."