Zimbabwe’s Business Sector Urged To Embrace New Opportunities Offered By The AfCFTA

By Wallace Mawire

The AfCFTA inaugurates the beginning of a new era in Africa’s global evolution , Prof Nkem Khumbah

The Zimbabwe Business and Industrial sector stands to benefit from opportunities being offered under  the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and it is time organizations like the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) begin to “mobilize its members to begin looking into the continental opportunities”, according to Professor Nkem Khumbah, Chairman of Africa Development Futures Group (ADFG).

Professor  Khumbah, who is also a Senior Fellow at the Washington DC-based Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils (GFCC), made the remarks during a keynote at the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) Annual Congress that held in Harare, Zimbabwe from 7 to 9 September, 2022.

He said that the  AfCFTA  inaugurates the beginning of a new era in Africa’s global evolution and emphasized the need for the business and industrial sector in Zimbabwe to position itself to embrace the new opportunities for development of the country and the continent.

In his presentation titled: Global Competitiveness Imperatives for Zimbabwe in the wake of AfCFTA and Globalization, he added that the AfCFTA offered the ultimate opportunity to integrate the African  continent, with the communities of Industrial Captains driving both the architecture of geo-economics, and hence, Industrialization on the continent.

The African Continental Free Trade Area was founded in 2018, with trade commencing as of 1 January 2021. It was created by Agreement among 54 of the 55 African Union Nations. Khumbah said that under the Initiative there is an expected increase in mobility of people, goods and services, “with attendant necessities for National and Regional Institutions to harmonize and integrate much of their  operational systems, regulations and mechanisms, and industry and the Business sector in Zimbabwe should not be found wanting,”

He said that if implemented as envisaged by its purveyors, the AfCFTA is expected to boost Africa’s  continental economy from US$3 trillion size in 2020  to some US$8 trillion by 2030.

He adds that these offers tremendous opportunities  for increased human interaction and commerce to create conditions for new, yet to be conceived companies and whole industries to be emerge.

He urged Zimbabwe’s Business sector to position itself for optimal value from the AfCFTA, by beginning to ask itself a few framing questions, beyond traditional “capacity” and “strategies” for its mechanical implementation. For example: a) How has Zimbabwe thus far performed within existing economic blocks like SADC, and what different does the AfCFTA offer? b) How much of the attendant growth in continental economic size will accrue to Zimbabwe? c) Can Zimbabwe leverage its most important strategic assets to use the AfCFTA as springboard to become the “South Korea” of regional Africa ? d) which are the top 20 companies owned and operated by Zimbabweans, and how  can some of these companies be supported to become continental players;

He suggested that questions like these generate thought processes, policies and investments that can enable the country to appropriate its share, thereby contributing to the AfCFTA living up to its promise. That in the near term, Zimbabwe needed Geo-Economic and Geo-Technological Architects (NOT Mechanics ) to map a regional economic role for the country to drive its industrialization and export agenda under the AfCFTA.

He also urged the sector  to identify  “made-in-Zimbabwe”  brands and position them to  become continental or global African brands, citing examples of Coca-Cola and Samsung which he said have provided their home counties with industrial respectability and global soft power.

Key reforms needed by Zimbabwe to reap big from the AfCFTA, says Prof Nkem Khumbah

Will some national companies be better off commanding 10% of current national sectors or ½ % of US$3 to US$8 trillion continental sectors ? He asked the business sector in  Zimbabwe to leverage on its most important strategic assets to use the AfCFTA as a springboard to become the “South Korea” of regional Africa. For example, development of its signature Stone assets can grow a granite industry to replace continental imports of same.

Prof Khumbah advised industries in Zimbabwe that the AfCFTA offered opportunities for near-unfettered access into regional markets,  and that ever-changing global dispensations, upgrading  of industry and competitive products for markets

He urged the Business Sector to complement the government in creating a new cadre of highly competent Zimbabwean professionals who are geared  to fill the enormous gap of shortages of critical human technical capacity on the African  continent.

Professor Khumbah said 74% of expected growth of global university-aged population of 18 to 23 years, from 2015 to 2035 is expected to be concentrated in 10 countries, 9 of which are African. These countries include Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and Tanzania. He also said that total higher education enrolment across the African continent will roughly triple from 7.4 million students in 2015 to nearly 22 million by 2040. These are the human capital that Zimbabwe, and the Continent will be relying upon to deliver the promise of the AfCFTA.

He urged the country to pivot its higher education towards producing top quality, globally competitive Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) human capital; possibly by strengthening the model which the country has already initiated, given that, in the increasingly technology-driven global landscape, it is the quality and quantity of its STEM workforce that will give relevance to all other sectors.

STEM Education in itself, can be a game changing export for Zimbabwe, offering transformative domestic top skilled workforce to upgrade its industries, while attracting top-paying students from around the continent.

Professor Khumbah is also the Chairman of Policy and Strategy Committee at the African Light Source Initiative, member of the STEM-Africa Committee and Faculty Associate for the Science, Technology and Public Policy at the University of Michigan in the United States of America (USA).

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