African nations need to adopt new approaches to realize the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and accelerate the continent’s development, a UN official said Thursday.
Ozonnia Ojielo, the UN resident coordinator in Rwanda, told a development policy dialogue in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, that Africa needs to build integrated, diversified and resilient economies more than ever before.
The AfCFTA is the flagship program of Agenda 2063 of the African Union designed to boost intra-African trade in goods and services.
“AfCFTA is a game-changer but translating it into reality requires preparedness and readiness supported by accompanying measures to ensure that countries make the most of this agreement. This is where we all have a role to play,” Ojielo said. “It is not about time to think outside the box. It is time to think without the box.”
Ojielo highlighted a range of potential benefits of the AfCFTA, such as providing productive employment and poverty reduction, which he said are some of the urgent challenges that the continent has to address. “But without preparedness, no benefit can be realized,” he warned.
He said countries need to think about how to be more intentional by shifting to new ideas that create acceleration in terms of economic development, integration, and scaling up the number of projects.
Ojielo also mentioned the need for discussions that translate into developing reliable and efficient transboundary infrastructure, by increasing investments in education and health systems for a more competitive workforce and overall human capital.
The inaugural development policy dialogue was held under the theme “A Lens on the African Continental Free Trade Area preparedness, best practices and opportunities for East Africa and Rwanda.”
Deputy Secretary General of Customs, Trade and Monetary Affairs at the East African Community Annette Ssemuwemba Mutaawe said while many people are aware of AfCFTA’s benefits, concerted efforts are needed to turn the aspirations into reality.
She called for youth and women empowerment to unleash the continent’s full potential and foster economic integration and inclusive growth across Africa.
Richard Niwenshuti, the permanent secretary of Rwanda’s Ministry of Trade and Industry, said the Rwandan government fully subscribes to regional economic integration and believes as a region much can be done within that wider market of AfCFTA.