How can Africa’s intra-trade boost African youth? 


Africa is home to about 1.6 billion people, rivalling China and India. Population projections show that by 2050, this number could double to 2.5 billion people, 40% of whom would be aged 15 or under. These young people would need jobs and social amenities, inevitably facilitating rural-urban migration to search for better economic opportunities. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) as a framework aims to create one single market for the free movement of people, goods, and services on the continent. This idea, with its foundations in Pan-Africanism, is to ensure that African nations produce goods and trade in an environment where tariff and non-tariff barriers are non-existent.

Woman promoting clothes business Credit: Freepik.

However, the current status of intra-African trade could be better and has been declining since the 2000s, especially with the manufacturing sector across Africa still in its infancy. According to the United Nations Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the share of manufactured goods in the total intra-African trade average from 2007–2011 was 46.2%, compared to 53.6% from 1996–2000. Data from Standard Chartered in their Future of Trade-Africa Report show that intra-continental trade in Africa has stagnated compared to other continents. Africa currently sits 5th out of the five continents reviewed (Antarctica and Australia are not featured), with 13% of total trade classified as intra-continental. This could be better when compared to Europe (67%), Asia (56%), and North America (50%). 

Regional trade is expected to improve as intra-East African trade is expected to grow annually from 2022–2035 by 15%, potentially gaining $53 billion, and intra-West African trade is likely to grow within the same period by 13.2%, gaining $11.3 billion. Similar growth is projected for regional trade across the continent. The good news is that projections show that African exports are set to reach $952 billion. Implementing the AfCFTA could see an additional boost of almost 30%, making it an ambitious $1 trillion in exports by 2035.

In more granular terms, while these numbers show signs of hope for the continent’s future, the African youth grapples with the times’ uncertainty. Crippling inflation in Nigeria, political instability in Mali, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Niger, insecurity challenges across the Sahel, and last but not least, a shrinking middle class in some of the continent’s economic heavyweights. It would be interesting to know for an African youth if putting hope in a better future would require courage or delusion. Or both. 

confident-male-worker-operating-machine-cold-drink-factory Credit: Freepik.

The African youth is a fearless self-starter, conditioned to be self-reliant because of circumstances mostly beyond their control. Compared with peers across the globe, in countries with social amenities, electricity, world-class universities, and a good economy, the African youth living in Africa would have to work twice as hard to get half as far. It should not be so. Their governments and international organisations must prioritise them.

Thankfully, in many ways, technology is levelling the playing field. African youths must embrace the positive powers of technology as a catalyst to show their skills, talents, and goods to the world. The advent of digital trade, music streaming, the boom in e-commerce, cryptocurrency, and other technological advancements spell good omens. African youth must engage with the rest of the world through social media platforms like LinkedIn and Upwork. The creative sector is growing and generating revenue for African nations. Finally, political participation is inevitable; the African youth must actively participate in crafting the future. 

Daberechukwu Ogbuishi is a policy analyst.  He brings fresh perspectives and a strong foundation in research methodologies. Committed to leveraging data for informed decision-making, he has honed policy evaluation and data interpretation skills to solve real-world problems. He has written on various policy issues concerning Africa and is currently a policy contributor at Veriv Africa, a data insights company.  

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