ON the heels of Africa Day and the conclusion of Africa Month, the Ichikowitz Foundation’s African Youth Survey has unveiled a startling finding: almost half of Africa’s young population remains unaware of the historic African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The survey, which targeted young Africans aged 18-24, indicates that 46 percent of respondents have never heard of the AfCFTA, a landmark trade agreement brokered by the African Union (AU) in 2018.
Despite the lack of awareness surrounding the AfCFTA, the study discovered an overwhelming appetite for African economic cooperation among those familiar with the trade area. Among this subset, a majority of 55 percent believe that the AfCFTA will have a significantly positive impact on their respective countries.
The Ichikowitz Family Foundation emphasises that realising these aspirations hinges upon the ability of African nations to leverage the potential of the new trade zone. The survey found that only 22 percent of young Africans reported being familiar with the AfCFTA, while 20 percent expressed scepticism about its potential to improve their country’s economic situation. Furthermore, 15 percent of respondents feared that the AfCFTA could exacerbate their country’s economic challenges.
In light of Africa Month and the ever-shifting geopolitical landscape with its implications for African economies, Ivor Ichikowitz, Chairman of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, stated, ‘Our leaders present and future are quickly coming to the realisation that we must look inward for economic opportunity.’ He further emphasised the need to nurture entrepreneurship and address lingering challenges to retain Africa’s brightest minds.
Key findings from the survey include:
- Rwanda (84 percent), Ghana (72 percent), and Mali (70 percent) were identified as the countries with the highest levels of support for the AfCFTA among young people.
- Sudan (24 percent), the Democratic Republic of Congo (23 percent), Congo-Brazzaville (21 percent), and Zambia (21 percent) were the countries where youth were most inclined to suspect a negative impact from the AfCFTA.
- Only 17 percent of respondents were aware of the new trade zone by its name, with more than six-in-ten young Africans in Sudan and South Africa having never heard of it.
Experts agree that Africa’s substantial growth potential, accounting for less than three percent of world trade in 2023, lies in intra-continental investment. The AfCFTA aims to eliminate barriers and facilitate trade among Africa’s 55 nations, which is expected to have a transformative impact on the continent, its 1.3 billion citizens, and its estimated $3.4 trillion GDP, as asserted by the African Union. If fully implemented, the Pan-African pact could increase incomes by 9 percent by 2035 and uplift 50 million people out of extreme poverty.
The African Youth Survey also reflects the rising generation’s strong support for free enterprise, with a remarkable 78 percent of respondents expressing their intention to establish their own businesses within the next five years. While 44 percent of respondents have contemplated emigrating for better economic opportunities abroad, supporters, including the United Nations, speculate that the AfCFTA could change this landscape once its full effects are realised.
Ichikowitz concluded, ‘Future African business leaders will put the meat on the bones of the African Continental Free Trade Area once awareness of the pact and its advantages becomes better known.’ He emphasised the importance of public education and increased recognition among the next generation to foster more robust trade within Africa.
Originally conducted in 2019, the African Youth Survey has emerged as an authoritative source for understanding the perspectives of Africa’s rising generation. The latest poll involved 4,500 young African men and women across urban and rural centres in Angola, Congo Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, and Zambia, administered by leading global polling firm PSB Insight.