Transformation Spotlight: Bogolo Kenewendo on the opportunities of the AfCFTA

August 15, 2022
In the latest edition of ACET’s Transformation Spotlight, our Communications Manager Belinda Ayamgha spoke with ACET Board Member and global economist Bogolo Kenewendo. Watch the full Transformation Spotlight to learn more about the AfCFTA, COP27, and Kenewendo’s lessons for private sector development from her time as Botswana’s Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, or read below to learn about the opportunities and pitfalls of the AfCFTA – and the crucial role of Africa’s youth in ensuring the trade area’s ultimate success.
What kind of opportunities does the AfCFTA offer Africa?  

Bogolo Kenewendo: First and foremost, the AfCFTA is the people’s project. We all need to own it, we all need to play a part in it, and we shouldn’t point fingers at policymakers or the secretariat, but we should rally behind its implementation and ask ourselves – whether you’re a small trader or a multinational – how to tap into neighboring countries’ markets. Then where you run into issues, you can come back to your national government to ask for facilitation. That is truly how we will start to build on the implementation of the AfCFTA. 

The opportunities are really vast. If we fully implement the AfCFTA, we know that this will be the largest trading block in the world. We know the opportunities that exist in having the European community trade amongst themselves – right now they’re sitting at 86 percent or more of the intra-European trade, and we see the benefits. We shouldn’t even wait to find out what would the opportunities of the AfCFTA are. They are evident: everywhere else in the world where there is a common market, there is development.  

We should start talking about the development of value chains and near-shoring and bring in the issue of climate change as we need to develop our value chains closer to home in order to reduce emissions. We need to trade better with each other, we need to do trade facilitation cross-border and cross-regionally because then we could start to work on some of the digital opportunities. If you’re able to roam between Botswana and Rwanda, and Rwanda and West Africa, that digital connectedness also provides a space for doing business for newer industries that we could have potentially not even thought about. So the opportunities are really endless.  

Are there any pitfalls to watch out for in the implementation of the AfCFTA? 

Kenewendo: Other than the negotiating track of the AfCFTA, which the technocrats and the politicians are dealing with, we have to look closely at the trade facilitation and non-tariff barriers, like having to fill out 1000 forms in order to allow a product to cross a border, or being told that you can only apply after 5 PM. We also need to work on synergizing product standards, to really ensure that there is a seamless trade flow. And we shouldn’t just focus on trading goods, which is the main focus right now, but also on trading services. 

And as we discuss these topics, it is important that we start to bring trade and economic issues to the understanding of everyone – whether you are an academic or a technocrat in this space, you should be able to speak fluently when it comes to the AfCFTA and issues of economic development. 

What role can young people play in ensuring the success of the AfCFTA? 

Kenewendo: Young people will be very important in ensuring the success of the AfCFTA. But in order for young people to play that role, the government needs to ensure that the trade facilitation issues are dealt with, and this goes all the way from finance to standards, and beyond. Young people will be able to tap into these spaces if we give them room to do so and if we give young people the chance to also tap into more innovative trade spaces that do not exist now.  

The focus is usually on traditional export products, and I want to encourage young people to go beyond what we already know as products that are exportable and work towards the development of new areas – tapping into the green space, and tapping into more digital products as Africa becomes more united.  The opportunities for tapping into African markets, as sparse as they are now, continue to increase. So young people must position themselves for those opportunities and start thinking about the kind of technological injections they need in order for them to thrive outside of their local space into more of the continent and beyond. 

This edition of Transformation Spotlight was featured in the Private Sector Development edition of our newsletter African Transformation Quarterly. Read the full newsletter here and click here to subscribe to African Transformation Quarterly. 

Watch African Transformation Spotlight Featuring Hon. Bogolo J. Kenewendo


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