Delegates pose for a group photo after the opening session of the Executive Council of Ministers of African Union meeting in Kigali. Timothy Kisambira.

The agreement on a ground-breaking trade deal among African countries offers a recipe for sustainable growth while promising to soften borders across the continent, co-chairs of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa said in the closing session on Friday.

A palpable sense of hope was obvious among participants that the components for success are now in place, said Arancha Gonzalez Laya, Executive Director of the International Trade Center.

“I like to think of this AfCFTA (Africa Continental Free Trade Area) as the most delicious African dish that can be produced,” Laya told participants. “The ingredients have been assembled, the cooks are in the kitchen. The guests are impatiently waiting for this dish to be served.”

Laya acknowledged however that big challenges remain to translate the promise of the agreement into jobs and economic growth on the ground.

The “dish” is vital for the 200 million young Africans aged 15-24 who need to see the continent move up a gear to a higher level of economic growth if they are to secure jobs and contribute to their countries’ prosperity as the workers of the future, participants agreed.

Sipho Pityana, Chairman of AngloGold Ashanti, said the free trade deal is a “catalyst,” however it is now up to political and business leaders to implement the removal of trade barriers and ensure sufficient investment in infrastructure and logistics to truly accelerate cross-border trade flows.

“We need to soften our borders to enable easy movement,” Pityana said. “We need leadership that is capable and has the determination to act collaboratively.”

For investors, this is a critical moment — and also a testing time for the claim made by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the meeting that this will be “Africa’s century.”

“From a business point of view, I view Africa as a large-scale start-up, just as East Asia was in the early 1990s,” said Alex Liu, Managing Partner and Chairman of A.T. Kearney. He argued that the continent could leapfrog ahead in certain areas, just as it has already done in mobile payments.

Participants stressed the importance of including the whole of society to deliver sustainable success, given the rapid pace of change in the workplace and the disruptive effects of new technologies with the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Africa’s left-behind youth and discriminated-against women have already made clear they are not prepared to tolerate the status quo, some participants said.

They cautioned that if the whole society was not brought along, then Africa will end up with similar tensions that the first and the second and the third industrial revolutions had.

That also requires long-term thinking and a multistakeholder approach from business, said Ellen Agler, Chief Executive Officer of the END Fund, a philanthropic initiative tackling neglected tropical diseases.

It is clear that successful companies have to chase more than profit, he said.

André Hoffmann, Vice-Chairman of healthcare company Roche, said Africa’s extraordinary natural heritage also needs to be cherished and is an opportunity for development. “Nature is not something that stops you from developing but it is an opportunity. In fact it is a 1 trillion-U.S.-dollar opportunity for investment,” he said.

The 2019 WEF on Africa opened on September 4, under the theme — Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The meeting convened more than 1,000 regional and global leaders from government, business, civil society and academia to explore new models to help Africa achieve success at a time when technology is creating dramatic economic and societal shifts. Enditem

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