Fostering Youth-Driven Peace and Security for a Thriving Future under the African Continental Free Trade Area AfCFTA

Across the expansive canvas of Africa, a vibrant wave of untapped potential surges forth through the continent’s dynamic youth. With a significant demographic of young individuals, Africa stands poised to redefine its trajectory towards prosperity. Despite grappling with armed conflicts and political upheaval, the introduction of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) holds promise for regional nations, offering a gateway to global economic integration, poverty alleviation, and inclusive development.

The resounding success of the second Intergenerational Dialogue (IGD) in Lusaka, Zambia which was held on October 16 – 18, 2023, stands as a testament to the fervor and commitment of over 50 youth from Zambia and more than 20 young leaders from diverse corners of Africa. Their impassioned voices echoed a collective aspiration to witness tangible transformations on the continent, particularly in the context of peace and security, as integral elements propelling the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

At its core, AfCFTA seeks to forge a unified continental marketplace for goods and services, fostering the free flow of commerce, investment, and skilled professionals in a peaceful manner. This monumental initiative aims to generate additional avenues for employment while amplifying the role of youth in political and economic spheres. As we approach the fifth anniversary of the AfCFTA agreement, a pressing need emerges to advance its operationalization, scrutinizing its impact on diverse demographics, with a keen focus on the youth across various sectors and nations.

The indispensable role of the youth, often underestimated and marginalized, is pivotal in driving social and economic progress under AfCFTA. Africa, blessed with an expansive and youthful population, holds a unique asset and competitive edge. Empowered with education, skills, and access to opportunities, African youth are poised to spearhead economic development and spearhead the actualization of AfCFTA’s transformative potential.

The implementation of AfCFTA has already spurred youth-led initiatives across sectors such as agriculture, financial technology, information technology, and creative industries. This surge of youth-driven entrepreneurship aligns seamlessly with the ethos of the Youth, Peace, and Security Agenda, rewriting the narrative of youth from potential instigators of conflict to active contributors to peace and socioeconomic advancement.

Regional Economic Communities (RECs) serve as linchpins in catalyzing these initiatives, offering mentorship, advocating for streamlined policies, and incubating young ventures. Through strategic partnerships, innovative endeavors, and a collective commitment to sustainable progress, RECs chart the course towards a more promising and resilient Africa. Together, we embark on a journey towards a future where Africa’s youth steer enduring advancements and prosperity.

To materialize this vision of an inclusive, peaceful, innovative, and sustainable future, it is imperative that Regional Economic Communities (RECs) prioritize initiatives tailored to the needs and aspirations of the youth. This encompasses the establishment of specialized hubs and programs led by young trailblazers, focusing on climate mitigation, entrepreneurship, and trade facilitation. These dynamic environments will foster collaboration, facilitate learning, and ignite innovative endeavors.

Moreover, the implementation of multi-stakeholder workshops, innovation challenges, and capacity-building programs will nurture creativity and equip young entrepreneurs with vital skills. Tailored incubation and mentorship programs will provide invaluable guidance and resources, while advocacy platforms will empower them to shape policy decisions. By forging collaborative ties with educational institutions and facilitating cross-border trade, RECs hold the potential to cultivate an environment conducive to sustainable economic development.

Furthermore, directing resources towards eco-friendly technologies, championing youth as active contributors to peacebuilding, and ensuring financial accessibility will further fortify and accelerate their entrepreneurial pursuits. Rigorous monitoring and evaluation mechanisms will ensure that these initiatives yield substantial and lasting impact, ultimately enhancing the prosperity and resilience of the continent.

By Mary-Yvonne Ododah
The author is the Chief Operations Officer at Epuka Ugaidi Organization which partnered with COMESA in holding the 2nd IGN.