ITC Shares

The future’s bright, young and African

19 December 2019
Matt Brown, International Trade Centre

Gathige Wa Maina of Youth Motion Kenya explains why the voice of youth must be heard in an inclusive African Continental Free Trade Area

People under age 35 currently compose three-quarters of the population of Africa, making it the world’s most youthful continent. A critical aim of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is to increase economic opportunity for young people.

For Gathige Wa Maina of Youth Motion Kenya, explaining to young people how best to exploit this opportunity is a priority. He sees the new dispensation in generational terms.

‘The elders of today have gifted to us a baby AfCFTA,’ he said. ‘The youth of today will seek association and help the fathers to grow the baby. The children of today – the youth of tomorrow – are the ones to mentor the adolescent AfCFTA and see its transition to adulthood.’

Maina, who describes himself as Youth Motion Kenya’s ‘chief dreamer’, thinks the promise of more open trade in Africa will mean nothing unless it expands entrepreneurialism and creates more and better jobs for generations of young people in Africa.

‘As Africa strives to anchor its positioning in the global arena strongly, its demographic dividend – youth and children – should be its capital since they are at least 65% of the population,’ he said. ‘Sharing information about new trade opportunities through existing structures or new innovative efforts can inspire youth entrepreneurs at the grassroots level in Africa.’

Youth Motion Kenya is working to make that vision a reality. It has developed a concept to use the arts – performing and visual arts as well as film – to seek out and empower young people in Kenya’s 47 counties. The Biashara Studio initiative aims to spread information about the transformative effects of the AfCFTA so that Kenya’s young people can position themselves from an informed perspective.

The initiative includes a comprehensive AfCFTA youth-awareness programme; a nerve centre (‘Trade Studio’) hosted at Kenya’s State Department for Trade; and trade information and learning centres (‘Biashara Studios’) hosted in every county.

The Kenyan youth organization’s efforts don’t stop there. It took part in celebrating World Theatre Day on 27 March 2019 by holding the African Art Trade Concert at the Kenya Cultural Centre in Nairobi. The event provided an opportunity for artists to be recognized as crucial contributors to the Kenyan economy and for the creative industries to be seriously considered in national development policies. Part of the performance can be viewed on YouTube.

Maina believes new initiatives aimed at youth could include: 

  • Establishing a youth desk at the AfCFTA secretariat in Ghana: This can help ensure the progressive mainstreaming of young people at every step of AfCFTA implementation and, most importantly, in technical elements such as negotiations. Alternatively, Youth Motion Kenya is ready to host an AfCFTA Youth Secretariat in Kenya under the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives.
  • Intertwining trade and development into national curriculums: The AfCFTA could be taught in schools and universities alongside Africa’s long-term development plan, Agenda 2063. In this way students could understand which entrepreneurial opportunities are available in Africa as a bloc, not a collection of small countries.
  • Business development services for small businesses and start-ups: The competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) needs to be improved by promoting better access to finance, training and information that help youth- and women-owned businesses understand how to access finance will be among the most effective ways to support their growth.
  • Feed the AfCFTA fire: Holding an “entertainment funfair” could stimulate interest in the AfCFTA and inspire its ownership by the youth of Africa. It could encompass communicating the uniqueness of the AfCFTA as a framework for the benefit of its young population and generations to come.

Maina said inclusion and implementation should go hand in hand as the agreement comes into force. He believes the end result will be a stronger African economy.

‘The AfCFTA will be only realized if special-interest groups in Africa are not just considered, but involved in its operationalization,’ Maina said. ‘These groups are persons living with disabilities, women, youth and children.

Deliberate efforts should be applied to enable their participation in this timely process of claiming a significant portion of the global market pie.’