The Continental Free Trade Agreement can spark the renaissance of African youth entrepreneurship

This page in:
Yahye Yusuf started his bakery in 2011 in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Susan Schulman/World Bank Yahye Yusuf started his bakery in 2011 in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Susan Schulman/World Bank

As a young African entrepreneur, I was beyond excited when the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement was launched early last year. Going through its mandates, I was happy to see that they aim to address the challenges that I and other young African entrepreneurs face daily. 

While part of the 2019 cohort of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Youth Entrepreneurship Program, I was able to interact and learn from other young African entrepreneurs like myself over about four months. From that experience, saying that Africa is rife with talented and innovative young people would be an understatement. 

What was immediately apparent, however, was that despite the huge array of entrepreneurial talent across the continent, it was difficult for these entrepreneurs to scale up their enterprises because of the bureaucratic red tape which persisted either nationally or regionally. This red tape keeps young people's ideas constricted to a certain geographical location although they can make an impact somewhere else. 

For example, one of the program participants from Botswana had an enterprise which produced honey and honey byproducts such as beeswax and cosmetics. Unfortunately, even though her market research showed that there was a significant market for her products in East and West African countries, exporting them there was rendered unfeasible due to exorbitant tariffs imposed on imports. 

The above case unfortunately is a norm and not the exception in the African entrepreneurial landscape, representing a reality faced by most young African entrepreneurs. The objectives of the CFTA, some of which include establishing a single continental market for goods and services, directly address these challenges. This is good news for young entrepreneurs who are looking to offer their services beyond their own borders. 

Apart from cutting the bureaucratic red tape which holds back the scaling of young entrepreneurs' businesses, the CFTA also has the potential to provide a healthy competitive environment amongst the continent's entrepreneurial landscape which will consequently foster innovation amongst the continent's entrepreneurs. 

Again citing my experiences during the TEF Entrepreneurship Program, I noticed that most of my colleagues from different African countries, especially in the technology sector, had incredible innovations. But again, because of lack of competition in their respective countries, they had become comfortable and were not willing to try make their innovations better than what they currently were. 

The competitive environment which will arise as a result of a free trade area across the continent has the potential to change this mindset of complacency by pushing entrepreneurs to always strive to be the best, not only within their own borders, but across the entire continent, propelling innovation in every country. 

As a young African entrepreneur—and I believe I share this sentiment with most of my peers across the region–the potential opportunities which will come with the implementation of the CFTA are endless, and I hope and believe it can serve as the much-needed renaissance of the continent's entrepreneurial environment.


Ephraim Modise

2019 Blog4Dev Winner, Botswana

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000