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Championed by our very own former African Union (AU) chair Madam Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the African Union Agenda 2063 is a vision that should live constantly in the hearts and minds of all Africans. Now the more I peruse its content, the more I’m convinced that the continent’s economic future lies solely in the hands of its youth.

Three weeks ago, I travelled to Togo and had the unique opportunity to meet privately with President Faure Gnassingbe at the State House. Our discussions included the opportunities that exist for young African entrepreneurs and how best to leverage the potential of Africa’s youth to grow the continent and his country. He envisions a youth that is in touch with tomorrow, a youth that is entrepreneurial in spirit and a youth that believes that the future of its country is in its hands.

My visit to Togo also included interacting with various ecosystem stakeholders, such as structures that are supporting the development of startups and small businesses. In addition, the Principal of the University of Lome shared the proactive reason for revising its curriculum. Introduced this year, the new curriculum’s content is now in perfect alignment with a ‘real-world environment’ as opposed to teachings which hold little value for working-related opportunity and its benefits.

This is a strong, down-to-earth, reality check approach I really applaud. The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution forces us to revisit the way we see the world and ensure that available opportunities in the market matches the skills that our youth are equipped with.

Photo: The President of Togo, H.E Faure Gnassingbe and Kizito Okechukwu, co-Chair
GEN Africa 22 on Sloane at the State House in Lome Togo.

What’s more, I was very pleasantly surprised at just how many young Togolese are self-starters, shaping their own destinies and driving positive change in their respective communities. The co-operative mind-set seems to thrive in this country, seeing people come together and build futures for themselves. This is the type of Africa we all want. Africans knowing that the future can only be secured and enjoyed by working together.

The Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCTA), which the African Union expects to formally launch in July, encourages member states to liberalise trade relations with each other, reduce trade tariffs among African countries and develop mechanisms to monitor the application of non-tariff barriers by some member states. Yet I would also like to see more integration of African nations. Sure, we have progressed quite rapidly on the visa regime (I cannot remember the last time I had to apply for a visa before visiting an African nation) and some countries now have visas on arrival, but the issue of integration should also focus on the commuting of Africans. This still remains a challenge where Africans have to air transit via Europe in order to come back to Africa, or have to air transit to two or three other African countries before reaching their final destination. This should be better coordinated, with maybe a railroad network that criss-crosses the continent for freedom of movement. It is encouraging to see that last week, The African Development Bank and the Economic Community of West African States Commission (ECOWAS) have signed an agreement for a study into a 1000 kilometre highway linking Cote d’Ivoire’s commercial capital Abidjan, to Lagos in Nigeria, marking a new step in building regional integration and trade.

The proposed Abidjan-Lagos Corridor Highway, a six-lane (3-lane dual) motorway, will connect the countries via Ghana (Accra), Togo (Lomé) and Benin (Cotonou).

African entrepreneurs should be given a prime attention on the agenda of Africa’s development. Those that develop market-worthy ideas should be given the opportunity to test them with their peers in other African countries and collaborate with them towards making their ideas a reality. Capital and programmes should also be provided to support their initiatives, similar to what the French government is doing on Digital Africa project by allocating some 60M€ to support young African digital entrepreneurs. We need more African agencies to follow suit.

“Strength in numbers” should be Africa’s mantra for sustainable economic power, now and into the future. So we need to collaborate. Disintegration will only divide us and not unite us. The Africa Investment Forum (AIF) of the African Development Bank (AfDB) has also set in motion the drive to promote investments, develop Africa and ensure that the future shines bright across the continent. Talking stats, it’s predicted that Africa’s population will increase to over 2.5 million by 2050 and the continent will also have the youngest population on the planet. it is imperative that startup role players and enablers are better coordinated to facilitate job creation and opportunities for small and medium sized businesses. Over the next five years, almost half of the world’s fastest growing economies will be located in Africa, growing at an average rate of 5% or higher. The African business-to-business spending will reach USD 4.2 trillion in 2030, an increase from USD 2.6 trillion in 2015. Business funding will be about USD915.3 billion in agriculture and agricultural processing, USD666.3 billion in manufacturing, USD784.5 billion in construction, utilities and transportation, USD665.1 billion in wholesale and retail, USD357.6 billion in resources, USD249.3 billion in banking and insurance, and USD 79.5 billion in telecommunications and IT.

This growth in domestic consumer demand combined with more business-to-business spending will allow both large businesses and SMEs to gain the most under the AFCTA. As the profile of African businesses grows on continental and world stages, African household consumers may be more inclined to buy African products and services to support continental development and growth.  However, this will depend on how well businesses are able to engage in the deal’s implementation.  Very limited reliable data reflects how various ecosystems enablers build and contribute to this diversification.

The AU agenda 2063 should be seen as a unique opportunity to recreate the African narrative and ensure that we rid ourselves and young go-getters of the dreadful “great ideas going nowhere” syndrome. So let’s focus on encouraging high levels of support, cooperation, youth entrepreneurialism, investments and wealth creation.

Lastly, we must discourage the precedent set in Nigeria last week where the General elections was postponed hours before it was scheduled to start. For a country with over 190 million people and 40% youth unemployment, where at least 11 million jobs are needed each year to curb the unemployment crisis, the postponement and lack of readiness brings distrust and flies in the face of all the work being done by various agencies to attract global investors closer to the table.

Kizito is the co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa – 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest start-up campus.

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