Africa's youth at the forefront of economic transformation

Young people play a critical role in making the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) a success.

April 10, 2023

Entrepreneurs working under the AfCFTA (L-R) Vidhyasahar Thiyagarajan (Seychelles), Dora Shimbwambwa (Zambia) and Gugulethu Siso (Zimbabwe)

UNDP Regional Programme for Africa


“I want a One African Market where I can make cross-border transactions in one African currency”, shared Vidhyasahar Thiyagarajan, founder of fintech company FUSE in the Seychelles.

Africa has the youngest population in the world, with more than 400 million individuals aged between 15 and 35 years. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), one-third are unemployed and discouraged, another third are vulnerably employed, and only one in six are in wage employment.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement has what it takes to tackle these challenges. Young people—with their energy, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, are the driving force in making the AfCFTA a working reality in Africa. 

“The AfCFTA offers a unique opportunity for youth in agro-processing to access larger markets, strengthen value chains beyond our home countries, increase collaborations and networks, enhance profitability and ultimately contribute to the economic development of our continent,” shared Dora Shimbwambwa, Founder of Tesh Foods in Zambia.

Young people are uniquely positioned to recognize, understand and respond to the opportunities presented by the AfCFTA and to participate in developing all economic sectors. They can do so with the support of governments, civil society organizations and the private sector. Investing in youth means investing in the continent's prosperity.

Unlocking trade opportunities

The AfCFTA agreement opens many opportunities for African youth to produce and trade across borders. To seize these opportunities, they must understand the Agreement well and acquire the proper skills and resources to maximize the AfCFTA's benefits. This includes a thorough familiarity with the applicable rules, regulations, customs and procedures. 

Understanding the Agreement will allow young people to identify local, regional and international markets for their goods and services, as well as assess the level of competition in each of these sectors. It will also allow them to develop long-term strategies for enhancing productivity, reducing costs and increasing profits. As such, they become active participants in the AfCFTA and fully capitalize on new opportunities with their skills and expertise, ensuring that no one is left behind and that inclusive socioeconomic development is guaranteed. 

“As young people who stand to gain the most from the AfCFTA, we need to start playing a more active role in shaping and enacting the agreement. It may seem like yet another abstract framework but the AfCFTA will affect not only our businesses but our day-to-day lives as young Africans. It's now up to us to take advantage of the agreement,emphasized Gugulethu Siso, CEO of Thumeza in Zimbabwe.

To achieve a transformational AfCFTA, UNDP has been working on several initiatives and processes to increase the participation of MSMEs, especially women and youth-led businesses, in regional and continental markets.



In collaboration with YouLead Africa, the AfCFTA Secretariat and the Ministry of Youth and Culture in Rwanda, UNDP organized an AfCFTA Bootcamp training of over 50 young entrepreneurs on the sidelines of the YouthConnekt Summit 2022 in Kigali, Rwanda. 

The "UMOJA CAMPAIGN", implemented in partnership with the Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development (YALDA), empowered over 800 youths across Africa, equipping them with knowledge and skills to become future leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs. 

The 2022 Youth in Trade and Innovation Challenge focused on exploring intra-African markets, commercial exchanges and growth of youth-led SMEs through regional trade. 82 applicants from a pool of 2,000 applications participated in an intensive masterclass on the AfCFTA and market expansion strategies. The 15 finalists will participate in continental and regional markets throughout the year, including the 2023 Intra-African Trade Fair, scheduled to take place in November 2023 in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.

UNDP supported the AfCFTA Trade Protocol Negotiation Process, a study to inform the AfCFTA Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade, and the organization of the first AfCFTA Conference on Women and Youth in Trade, held in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in September 2022. 

Finally, the AfCFTA Futures Report series, published in 2020 and 2021, highlights the promise of the AfCFTA as told by women and youth entrepreneurs and business owners. The reports address ongoing efforts by governments and development organizations to ensure that youth maximize the agreement and unlock their potential to become catalysts for sustainable development.