This is the “Foreword” by Ahunna Eziakonwa to the publication, “The Futures Report: Making the AfCFTA work for women and youth”

We dream of an Africa that is self-sufficient. At a time when the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pokes significant holes in Africa’s capacity to yield its promise, I am energized by the potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to empower Africans to take control of their lives.

The report focuses on women and youth because of the significant transformational impact they hold for defeating poverty. Over 70 percent of cross-border traders, especially those engaged in informal trade, are women. Understanding their needs and giving them a platform to speak is incredibly important. The youth are Africa’s largest composite of human capital. As the youngest continent, Africa needs to invest in ensuring that its youth have credible pathways to engage in productive activities so that they may reap the promise of their dreams and become architects of their own prosperity.

As an African woman, I am particularly hopeful that an effective implementation of this Agreement will advance the dream of African integration—one that our forefathers committed to, and for good reason. An integrated Africa will create a single market of 1.2 billion people, each of these with needs and priorities, translating into opportunities for production and supply of a new ‘Made in Africa’ transformation. 

This is particularly important at a time when the world has heard for far too long the challenges of low volume and low-value exports. The AfCFTA gives Africa’s people the opportunity for seamless trade, value addition and diversification of the product range (both goods and services); a closer interaction between Africa’s natural resource endowments and much needed industrialization; and the structural transformation of the African economy. 

This has importance beyond the traditional narrative of a rise in gross domestic products. It is critically important for human development, in allowing more opportunities for the right investments through which the AfCFTA can change the game – triggering a production revolution across Africa, creating jobs, rising incomes and lifting more and more people out of poverty.

At a time when COVID-19 has challenged much of what we know about development models, he AfCFTA could be one good way to bring back perspective, positing the prospect of recovery in home-grown solutions by giving exports a boost and, in doing so, empowering all participants in cross-border trade, especially women and youth.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with its presence across the continent of Africa, is pleased to unveil its inaugural ‘Futures Report: Making the AfCFTA Work for Women and Youth’. This report builds on the important contribution of several partners that have made the case for the economic benefits of the AfCFTA. 

In the Futures Report, we unveil a new approach in which exporters and policy officials in Africa lead the conversation. We asked them a simple central question: why does the AfCFTA matter to you, and what are you doing to maximize opportunities within the continental market?

This simple question has triggered a wealth of case stories, which leave one hopeful that the future of the continent could indeed be brighter with the right policy support, thanks to the zeal of Africa’s exporters. From shoe manufacturers to educationists, from film-makers to producers of poultry feed, from players in the pharmaceutical market, to farm-to-table agriculture traders, from a minister responsible for trade to senior policy specialists leading the implementation of the Agreement, the report continues on the Africa Innovates trajectory to showcase African voices in telling their story and ensuring that they hold the mantle for homegrown solutions.

UNDP will continue to provide the space for these stories to thrive, and is committed to going beyond the story, by working with partners on the ground to ensure support for women and youth export-led enterprises. We will keep track of these stories and more, as part of our efforts to boost intra-African trade on the ground.

I am grateful to all the outstanding women and youth and all the contributors who have worked with my team in putting together this Report. I wish you all the best and hope to see the fruits of your labour as we work together to create the Africa We Want.

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Ahunna Eziakonwa is the Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and Director: UNDP Regional Bureau