Youth and Free Trade: Challenges and Opportunities (In Relation to Peace and Security)

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The 9th Tana High-level Forum on Peace and Security in Africa takes place virtually in October 2020 under the theme The AfCFTA: Revitalizing Pan Africanism for Sustainable Peace and Development in Africa guides the Forum and surrounding events. With the view to provide a platform for young Africans to engage and mobilize on the Tana Forum theme and youth-related issues, the Pre-Tana Youth Forum will take place on 27 August 2020 virtually in collaboration with the African Youth Commission, Youth Foundation for Development, Education & Leadership (YouthhubAfrica), Youth to Youth and GIZ.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) brings together 55 African economies, forming the world’s largest trading area with a gross domestic product worth USD $3.4 trillion and a population of more than one billion people. The ambitious objectives of the AfCFTA include facilitating intra-African trade; promoting regional value chains to foster the integration of the African continent into the global economy; boosting industrialization, competitiveness, and innovation, ultimately contributing to Africa’s economic development and social progress by eliminating tariffs and other related trade barriers.

The impact of this agreement is paramount in numerous ways. Countries can excel in the production of goods and services at their comparative advantage and export them to their neighbors and other countries on the continent. At the same time, the agreement will allow them to bring-in (import) goods and services at relatively cheaper prices and short amounts of time. According to the AU, intra-African trade is one of the lowest in the world, it is close to 18%. But, after the implementation of the agreement, it is believed to increase to 52% in 2022.

In addition, the AfCFTA is going to impact youth at large because more than 60 % of the people living in the continent are youth, being below the age of 35. Currently, as a result of the vicious spell that underdevelopment has cast upon the continent, a large number of youths are desperate to make a living for themselves and for their families to the point of enlisting in terrorist or extremist groups. One can take a look at how impoverishment can be used to manipulate youth into being members of terrorist groups, for example in Nigeria (Boko-Haram) and Somalia (Al-Shabbab).

So, AfCFTA is the long-awaited catapult to shoot Africa’s economy in general, as a result, it will lead to more job opportunities for the youth who are in desperate need of employment. Additionally, youths having new business ideas (entrepreneurs) will benefit from the new markets elsewhere. These are some of the main benefits or impacts of AfCFTA on youth.

On the contrary, the AfCFTA might have its own disadvantages. As discussed earlier the main idea of this agreement is to allow people and goods to move freely across the continent. In doing so, various threats to peace and security of individuals, countries, and the continent, in general, might also move freely as people and goods do. The proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) is currently one of the main challenges Africa is facing and it is playing a huge role to make conflicts protracted. Without the necessary controlling efforts and institutions in place, the AfCFTA might exacerbate conflicts by inviting more youth and SALW into them.

Another possible peace and security challenges can be the issue of insurgency and violent extremism. As borders diminish and individuals frequently move easily across country boundaries, insurgency and violent extremism do the same for safe havens making it much harder to achieve peaceful and prosperous Africa (Agenda 2063); here youth are the main members of these extreme groups. Moreover, as people easily move across countries’ boundaries, it is highly likely to carry infectious diseases with them that can pose a threat to the peace and security of states of the continent.

So, it is imperative to say that, AfCFTA is a double-edged sword that is capable of striking both ways. Thus, this pre-forum will try to figure out the advantages and disadvantages of the AfCFTA with special emphasis on youth.