At a time when intra-continental trade remains too weak, Africa’s most influential business leaders have decided to come together and make their voices heard.

The Africa CEO Forum aims to make the implementation of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) a driver for private sector growth and the emergence of new African champions.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame comments: “Nobody is questioning whether the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) is the right way to go or whether it is going to give us benefits. It is the only way to go if we want to maximise on the opportunities for the benefit of our continent. But we have to make it work and we know how.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that deeper integration translates into prosperity and well-being for our people. As long as women face unnecessary obstacles in using their talents to the full we will continue to pay a heavy price in terms of lost wealth.” he adds.

Amir Ben Yahmed, the President of the Africa CEO Forum calls on governments to enable the private sector to play its role in creating the number of quality jobs needed for Africa’s growing population.

“The African private sector and the investor have to be brought on board. Development cannot happen without them, so ambition has to move towards them and the civil society,” he says.

IFC CEO Philippe Le Houerou says that, while visionary leadership is key for economic integration of Africa, pragmatism is equally important.

“Africa needs 1,7-million new jobs every month. The only way to do it is to develop a striving and competitive sector enabled by free trade and opportunities across the conti-nent. We therefore need visionaries, new markets and pragmatists.”

A panel during the event saw key business and political leaders address challenges associated with intra Africa trade.

Ethiopia President Sahle-Work Zewde comments: As much as we concentrate on political issues, as a region we all have the same bold ambition which is for our countries to make constant progress but it can’t be done without peace and security.”

According to Carlos Lopes, honorary professor of the University of Cape Town, it takes up to 700 hours to process trade documents in some African states. “Where is the urgency to reduce this?” he asks. “The cost of transportation from one country to another country is really brutal. It takes much more to transport goods from Rwanda to Mombasa than it costs from Mombasa to China.”

However, he adds that Africa has done well as a continent and economic region in terms of the time it took to sign AfCFTA, compared to other regions in the world that took on average 10 years to concretise similar trade treaties.