Group organises pan-African conference in 4 cities to discuss market potentials and build synergy for AfCFTA

Steve Arowolo, the Convener and Founder of the Unlocking African Markets, Promoting Intra-African Trade and Investments.
  • Basilia group is holding a conference in 4 cities on how to unlock the continent's market potentials.
  •  The event aims to promote trade and investments in Africa, focusing on the enhancement of Intra-African Trade and Investments in tandem with the vision of the African Union (AU) Commission.
  • Steve Arowolo, Convener and Founder of the Unlocking African Markets, Promoting Intra-African Trade and Investments, discusses key issues surrounding AfCFTA.

Business leaders, government agencies, and policymakers continue to fine-tune how trade and investment will work in Africa in line with the African continental free trade agreement (AfCFTA).

The AfCFTA, launched on March 21, 2018, in Kigali, is the biggest in the world since the establishment of the World Trade Organisation. The objective of the agreement is to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business people and investments.

It has been projected to create an African market of over 1.2 billion people with a GDP of 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars, according to AU.

These needs also include human relationships within the continent and energy sustained by vision, courage, trust, and sincere love

With all these in mind, the Basilia Group is convening a pan-African conference, tagged; “Unlocking African Markets, Promoting Intra-African Trade and Investment.

The event aims to promote trade and investments in Africa, focusing on the enhancement of Intra-African Trade and Investments in tandem with the vision of the African Union (AU) Commission on improving trade and investments within African countries and beyond.

In this interview with Business Insider SSA, Steve Arowolo, Director and Group CEO of Basilia Group discussed the pan-African conference, the potentials and key issues around the free trade agreement and what business leaders stand to gain.

Business Insider SSA (BISSA): What informed the first pan-African conference

Steve: Basilia Group is a private company based in Cape Town, South Africa with special focus on International Trade, Investments and Development, Commodity Trading, and exploring Africa’s Exports and Imports markets.

Recently, we commissioned the 5-year plan of our company which aims at Unlocking trade and investments opportunities in at least 20 African cities within the next 5 years beginning from this year.

Our aim is to organise Trade Shows and Investment Conferences and AfCFTA Masterclasses in 4 African cities per year over a 5 year period, and invest in the critical sectors of some of those countries' economies as we engage with their policymakers, business communities in general, thereby helping them to create jobs in order to ease the burden of massive youth unemployment on the continent. 

We believe that Africa should be able to produce, process and profit from her resources, be it natural or human resources. But the sad reality now is the fact Africa produce mainly for exports, and the exported raw materials are processed elsewhere outside the continent and imported back to us for consumption at higher prices. This is the status quo ante, but we all know that is unprofitable and unsustainable, especially in this 21st century; and it must be emphasised that the more we export our raw resources and products, the more jobs we export, and the unemployment epidemic and brain drain continue unabated. We need to start doing things differently. And the newly endorsed African Union Commission’s African Continental Free Trade Areas (AfCFTA) is a big step forward for Africa, and it is in tandem with what Basilia Group has been promoting.  

BISSA: The conference is coming at the time African leaders are perfecting plans for the next phase of AfCFTA. How can the conference help in shaping the AfCFTA story?

Steve: The African story is interesting, and AfCFTA is one of the channels through which we can tell the story of our rich natural resources and the enormous potentials of human resources that we have been endowed with as a people, but we need to own the story and tell it to ourselves, and for our collective benefits. It is the story which is sufficiently and succinctly captured in the African Union policy document tagged: Agenda 2063, whose overarching goal presents and represents - “A shared strategic framework for inclusive growth and sustainable Development & a global strategy to optimise the use of Africa’s Resources for the benefit of all Africans”. 

Shaping the AfCFTA story would require a synergy of ideas and a convergence of purpose, and our platform, the Unlocking African Markets initiative is paving the way for the real African story to be told and be heard in more coherent ways.

You see, in telling the African story, Africans must own the story, we must be the custodian of the content of that story. What is obtained currently is the outsourcing of that African narrative, and our message is very clear, African leaders must stop outsourcing their responsibilities, they must own that responsibility and champion the African story like the true lead storyteller, and that’s what we represent at Basilia Group. 

Most African leaders, be it in politics or business have little regards for the real African content. And that’s why they will prefer to spend huge sums of money and support for mega conferences like the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa than spend on a Conference that is 100% African content.

Our Unlocking African Markets Conferences and Masterclasses are poised to telling the real African stories in tandem with the tones and tenets of AfCFTA as enshrined in the Agenda 2063 of the African Union (AU) Commission. This is very important because we want to look back in 10, 20, 30 years from now, and be happy that we played our part in advancing the African agenda by telling the real African story for the benefits of Africa and her business partners. 

BISSA: What key opportunities should business leaders and policymakers expect from the conference?

Steve: We have adopted a slogan for our roadshow campaign in publicising our Unlocking African Markets Conference, and the campaign slogan captures the benefits inherent in the Conference. And it goes like “1Conference 1Continent 4Cities: – Unlocking African Markets: Promoting Intra-African Trade and Investments”. And in recognition of the significance of AfCFTA, the conference is being held under an overarching theme: “Gateway to Africa’s $3 Trillion Market: Profiting from Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), One African City at a Time”

This year, 2019, we will be holding Conferences in 4 African Countries; Mozambique, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Our 1st AfCFTA Masterclass is organised in partnership with the Institute for Futures Research (IFR) at the prestigious University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) will attract delegates across Africa and outside Africa. 

We live and work in the age of disruption where existing business models are challenged and disrupted by the advancement of technology, including policy uncertainties, climate change uncertainties, and market uncertainties. This masterclass will focus on some topical issues around policy and business from Pan-African perspective e.g. The 4th Industrial Revolution and the Future of Trade and Investments in Africa – AfCFTA as a Case Study; ‘Data as the new Oil’ – will Africa be left behind?; Fostering Africa’s Creative Economy – making a case for investment with ‘a human face’ in Africa; Green Economy and the future of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Investments in Africa. This Masterclass' core objective is to bring together high profiled investors, academia, policymakers, venture capitalists, and all relevant stakeholders within and outside the African continent. 

BISSA: There are still key issues around the African free trade agreement. These include strict border issues and how leaders will adhere strictly to the AfCFTA letters. How will this event help to shape some narrations about those concerns?

Steve: You’d recall that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was officially launched at the 12th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union (AU) in Niamey, Niger on the 7 July 2019. 

However, critical aspects of the agreement are still being finalized before countries begin trading under the AfCFTA on July 1, 2020.

It is envisaged that there will be free movement of people and goods under the AfCFTA dispensation. But it must be stressed that all the counties may not be ready for trading at the same time, in fact, some countries would consider a moratorium of few years for them to perfect their intra-African trade strategies and policies before fully switching to AfCFTA trading platform. The moratorium period would assist such countries in ensuring that all the needed policy issues and compliance codes are adhered to. And such flexibility are what would fine-tune border-related issues, issues around rules of origin, intellectual properties and other codes of ethics under the AfCFTA dispensation. I am also aware that the African Union Commission is also working on a single African passport for all African citizens, to ease the burdens of movement of people and businesses across the continent.

Hence, these are some of the policy issues, regulatory and compliance issues that would be discussed at our Unlocking African Markets Conference. 

BISSA: After the event, what's next?

Steve: After the event, we intend to track down trade and investment opportunities in each of those African countries. Basilia will also conduct regional and country-wide quality market research and feasibility studies, helping businesses make the right trade and investment decision.

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