The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could break Africa’s colonial legacy of exporting raw materials and importing finished goods.

This is the word from Jean-Louis Ekra, deputy chairperson of the Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF2023) Advisory Council and a former president of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), speaking at the Trade and Investment Conference of IATF2023 in Cairo.

Ekra, who was delivering an opening statement, pointed out the unsustainability of African economies relying on natural resources and commodities, saying this dependence made them vulnerable to adverse trade shocks, liquidity constraints and macroeconomic management challenges.

Arguing that the situation needed to be addressed urgently, especially as it had worsened the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, geopolitical tensions and climate change, he said that “AfCFTA cannot fail, especially given that intra-African trade is estimated at 16%,” which was a level of trade that compared unfavourably with other regions.

Ekra said that the low level of intra-African trade was explained by constraints such as limited trade and infrastructure including payments and settlement systems, lack of access to relevant market information, limited knowledge about business, sustained investment opportunities and limited platforms to connect buyers and sellers.

He urged African countries to recognise that the AfCFTA was the missing link the continent needed and that it presented many trade and investment opportunities in manufacturing, export development, SME promotion and trade in services.

Ali Basha, Minister Plenipotentiary from Egypt, urged all African nations to “work hand-in-hand to address the challenges of trade integration”.

During a panel discussion on energy transition and industrialisation in Africa, Dr Ainojie Irune, chief operating officer of Oando Energy Resources, emphasised the need for African leaders to be more impatient about developing the continent, arguing that energy was crucial to Africa’s development and the transition should benefit Africa where 40% of the population live without electricity.

Helen Brume, Afreximbank’s director of projects and asset-based finance, said any discussion about transitioning to cleaner energy sources must consider that 600-million Africans still lacked access to electricity while 900-million do not have access to clean energy sources for cooking.