The promise of free African trade

CBW – Africa asked Joseph Atta-Mensah how relevant the African Union (AU) theme of the year is to the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The 2023 theme ‘Acceleration of AfCFTA implementation’ is particularly significant because of AfCFTA’s potential benefit to the continent. The initiative seeks conditions for an increasingly free and unencumbered flow of trade among state parties to the agreement. Its eight strategic objectives are:

#Create a single market for goods and services

#Liberalise tariffs in goods and services markets

#Support the movement of capital and people while facilitating investments that build on state party and regional economic community (REC) initiatives

#Lay the foundation for a continental customs union

#Promote sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development considering gender equality and structural transformation

#Increase the competitiveness of state parties both intra-continentally and globally

#Promote industrialisation and diversification, regional value chain development, agricultural development and food security

#Resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships of countries in RECs and expedite regional and continental integration.

If fully implemented, the AfCFTA agreement would attract cross-border investments by eliminating tariff- and non-tariff barriers. An investor in one ratifying country would have access to a continent of 1.3 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of US$3.4 trillion – a figure expected to grow exponentially in the years ahead. A World Bank and AfCFTA secretariat study suggests that AfCFTA would raise incomes in Africa by 9% by 2035 and lift 50 million people out of extreme poverty.

Foreign direct investments to Africa would increase by between 111% and 159% and wages would rise by 11.2% for women and 9.8% for men. Africa’s exports to the rest of the world would grow by 32% and intra-African exports by 109%, led by manufactured goods. Overall, the agreement would make Africa very attractive for investment, expand trade, provide better jobs, reduce poverty and increase shared prosperity for all citizens. It would advance both Agenda 2063 and Sustainable Development Goals.

AfCFTA’s success hinges on the active involvement of the private sector. It is, therefore, important for African countries to support private-sector access to the preferential treatment provided by the agreement. When that happens, the business sector will reap the benefits of not only a larger export market but also cost savings and associated competitive advantages in that market.

What progress has the AU made to date?

Achievement, in this case, is dependent on the AU’s vision of ‘an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena.’ To realise this vision, leaders marked the 50th anniversary of the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, with Agenda 2063. This is the blueprint for transforming Africa into a global powerhouse. With AfCFTA being a flagship project, I believe entry into force of the AfCFTA agreement is a major achievement.

Infrastructure development is pivotal for sustainable development and regional integration. The AU must be commended for its Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA). PIDA’s priority action plan has achieved an additional 16 066 km of roads, 4 077 km of railways and 3 506 km of power transmission lines. It has also provided 17 member states with regional fibre optic cables. In addition, 112 900 jobs were created directly and 49 400 indirectly.

The Single African Air Transport Market is significant, as it aims to liberalise air transport services. The Protocol on Free Movement of Persons in Africa is another milestone. It will facilitate intra-regional trade and regional integration. It requires 15 ratifications, but to date only four of the 32 signatories have ratified. The protocol emphasises the right of Africans to live and establish a business or economic activity in another country using a common travel document (a common African passport).

What is the biggest challenge to the AfCFTA dream?

For continental development, AfCFTA must become a reality. Government and business have to:

#Create an enabling environment for the production of agricultural and industrial products and services, of the right quality and quantity, at competitive prices, for trading under the agreement. Governments need to scale up investments in industrialisation, education, research and development and associated skills.

#Implement PIDA, which brings together regional and continental infrastructures under the leadership of the African Development Bank. PIDA will provide the right infrastructure and logistics – including roads and trucks, railway lines and rolling stock, seaports and seafaring vessels, airports and aircraft – to move meaningful product quantities. Similarly, without digital connectivity networks, the enormous promise of digital trade will not materialise.

#In addition to affordable infrastructure and services, trade facilitation measures must be enhanced, including the removal of illegal roadblocks, checkpoints and fees and other rent-seeking practices along trade and transit corridors and border crossings. The AfCFTA agreement has a separate instrument dedicated to trade facilitation.

#Ensure finance, without which many good and potentially viable business ideas and start-ups are unrealised. Cross-border trade is inherently riskier than domestic trade. The parties reside in different jurisdictions, are subject to different laws, transact in different currencies, speak different languages and practise different cultural traditions, all of which add risks and transaction costs.

#Trade finance instruments are needed to mitigate such risks and to expedite business across borders. Unfortunately, trade finance is in its infancy in Africa, with governments needing to create an enabling environment continentally, regionally, nationally and locally for the promotion and development of financing instruments and facilities. That said, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) has programmes such as structured trade finance, note purchase and asset-backed lending that support trading countries.

#Consider a monetary union or common African currency. The continent has about 42 currencies, with trade between two countries with different currencies requiring a third country’s legal tender, often the euro or the US dollar, which raises transaction costs. Africa is estimated to lose up to US$5 billion a year on currency conversion alone.

With Afreximbank support, Africa has launched the pan-African payment and settlement system. This connects African banks, payment service providers and other financial market intermediaries to enable instant and secure payments between African countries trading under AfCFTA.

Will AfCFTA balance the free movement of goods with that of people?

The AU has a protocol on the movement of people and the right of establishment separate from the agreement. Full AfCFTA realisation depends on the freedom of movement – of goods, services and people – and the establishment of multimodal transport infrastructure. Although the AfCFTA agreement and protocol were launched in 2018, as mentioned earlier, only four countries out of the 55 AU member states have ratified the protocol. Ratification must be accelerated.

In February 2017, the Peace and Security Council noted that the benefits of free movement of persons, goods and services outweighed any real or perceived security risks and economic challenges. Benefits include increased intra-African trade and investment, improved education and training, better access to healthcare, labour mobility and enhanced use of human and material resources, and increased tourism, continental integration and pan-Africanism.

However, certain countries have noted potential and real threats of organised crime – including human, arms and drug trafficking, terrorism and violent extremism. These must be addressed, not by preventing movement, but by improving civil registries, enhancing identity document integrity, border management and law enforcement, and strengthening bilateral and international relations, particularly for information exchange.

Other African countries could learn from Rwanda. It strengthened its national security, border management and law enforcement capacities and used innovation and information technology before allowing visas on arrival for all Africans. This ensured the integrity and credibility of its borders, immigration protocols, policies and mechanisms.

Given the apprehension of some member states about free markets, what short- to medium-term safeguards exist?

AfCFTA will allow countries to operate in areas where they have a comparative advantage, enabling them to diversify and industrialise. Trade creation and diversion will create winners and losers in the short term. Gains and losses also rest on the difference in national economies. Africa has high-income disparity and every economy is different. Diversified economies may see earlier benefits from tariff liberalisation.

Over the longer term, industrialisation is beneficial, particularly among more-resource-dependent countries. So, while there is heterogeneity, AfCFTA holds something for all. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates that with full liberalisation of tariffs, by 2040, exports to Africa will be 23% higher for more-developed and 21% for least-developed countries. The key is for AfCFTA state parties to develop implementation strategies that focus on their comparative advantages for sustainable development.

On the other hand, revenue losses from the removal of tariffs under AfCFTA can be mitigated with a compensation fund. The AfCFTA secretariat and Afreximbank must be applauded for signing an agreement on the management of the AfCFTA Adjustment Fund.

The two parties were mandated to establish the structure by the AU Summit of Heads of State and Government and AfCFTA Council of Ministers. The fund supports AfCFTA states and the private sector to adjust to the new liberalised and integrated trading environment. Comprising base, general and credit funds, it is expected to address revenue losses as tariffs are progressively eliminated. It will also help countries to implement provisions of the AfCFTA agreement, its protocols and annexes.

It will be built on state parties’ contributions, grants and technical assistance funds. The resources required over the next five to 10 years are estimated at US$10 billion. Afreximbank has already committed US$1 billion.

How can Africa make sure the AfCFTA dream does not become a mirage?

AfCFTA’s success rests on its implementation by state parties. Because they need technical capacities, they have drawn up implementation strategies covering national interests and specifying interventions to benefit from the agreement. It is important that the private sector – manufacturers and farmers, bankers and telecoms operators, importers and exporters – understands, appreciates, embraces and champions AfCFTA implementation in its country.

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Nicoleta Acatrinei 2

Dr. Nicoleta Acatrinei

Head, Diaspora (Europe)

Dr. Nicoleta Acatrinei, is the head of our Research and Development, Swiss Impact Investment Association (SIIA). She is a distinguished economist whose journey began in the world of banking but soon transcended traditional boundaries. Her expertise ranges from public policies, sustainable finance, and development to anthropology, moral decision-making, work psychology, theology, and digital transformation. She has authored books, book chapters and journal articles, including Saint John Chrysostom and Homo Oeconomicus (2008); Let’s talk about money, let’s talk about human nature (2007); The determinants of work motivation in the delivery of public services: the case of the Swiss education sector (2015); and Perspectives of Saint John Chrysostom for the VUCA world. An integrative mindfulness program to cope with managerial challenges in a VUCA world , and most recently “The Human Nature of Homo Oeconomicus: An Anthropological Investigation in the Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew by Saint John Chrysostom, in Studia Patristica ( 2021), vol. 25, pp. 255-268.

In 2014, Dr. Acatrinei earned her Ph.D. from the prestigious Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP), Switzerland.

She spearheads initiatives that define the future of work at the crossroads of faith, well-being, and digital transformation, while also guiding the formulation of public policies that drive sustainable development, SDGs, and social impact economic activities. Her impact reverberates globally, as evidenced by her esteemed Doctorate Honoris Causa bestowed by RAI University in New Delhi for her outstanding work on economics and sustainable development in December 2022.

Rita Namakikia

Rita Namakiika Nangono

Legal Advisor

Rita Namakiika Nangono is a Founding Partner of N&N Advocates, Fully fledged commercial Law firm and has a career spanning over 15 years and she is a seasoned law practitioner with extensive experience in Insurance law, Corporate & Commercial law (including proficiency in joint ventures and other forms of domestic and foreign investments, Immigration and Employment Law, Corporate Governance).

Rita is a specially trained trial advocacy lawyer with a certificate in Trial Advocacy by Justice Advocacy Africa in conjunction with Uganda Law Society. She can competently handle all civil and criminal litigation in all courts in Uganda.

Other Board Positions include Chairperson – INSURANCE APPEALS TRIBUNAL, Board member and Chairperson HR Committee – PUBLIC PROCUREMENT AND DISPOSAL OF ASSETS AUTHORITY (PPDA), Member Education and Training Committee – INSTITUTE OF CORPORATE GOVERNANCE, Board Chairperson – MINERVA REINSURANCE BROKERS LIMITED and Immediate Past Hon. Secretary (2020-2022) – UGANDA LAW SOCIETY

Rita holds a Bachelor of Laws from, Makerere University, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the Law Development Centre, Kampala. She is a member of the Uganda Law Society, East Africa Law Society and Commonwealth Lawyers Association.

In 2016, Rita was recognized among the top 40 women under 40 in Uganda for excellence and influence in her field.

Dr Anire Okogun-2

Dr Anire Okogun

Legal Advisor

Dr Anire Okogun, is a lawyer, and Managing partner of Chanelle Solicitors, she was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1991, and holds a Doctorate Degree, from Colorado Technical University in Denver Colorado. She is a serial Entrepreneur With Over 33 years post graduate Experience. Her passion for women and youth Advocacy led her to the Board of PIND foundation, a foundation established by Chevron Nigeria to Develop women and youth for self-sustainability in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria

She is the founder and pioneer Managing Director of Chanelle Microfinance Bank , in Nigeria. Under her watch over 30,000 women and youth were empowered for self-sustainability and financial Independence from 2008 to 2020 ,through Micro, Small and Medium Loans schemes

Dr Anire Okogun established Chanelle Foundation in 2009, to help woman and youth build skills as a tool for Empowerment. Since establishment, over 2000 women and youth have benefitted from their various projects. She sits on the Board of several companies and a member of the International Federation of women lawyers (FIDA) a professional advocacy group protecting the rights and dignity of women and youth

Dr Okogun has attended both local and international courses which includes the Harvard Business school. Dr Okogun is passionate about women and youth Empowerment and has taken her advocacy to several countries championing the rights of women and the girl child.

Pauline Warui

Pauline Warui

Head of Trade

Pauline Warui is the founder of East Africa Customer Care Centre Ltd a company she founded in January 2016 to improve the training and execution of customer experience in businesses.

She has been instrumental in shaping commercial and customer experience teams in Kenyan Companies through leadership, training and consultancy. She is a renowned business leader with over 20 years’ experience, in the leading Telecommunications organizations; the Oil and Insurance sector. She has worked with Capital Pagers, Kencell Telecommunications and Chevron Global at Senior and Executive levels. She also worked at Safaricom as Director, Customer Care where she played a critical role in setting-up Safaricom’s contact centre; the biggest of its kind in East and Central Africa.

She is also Country Head of Commonwealth Business Women in Kenya having served as Vice Chair previously.. She is also a director at Kline Insurance Agency where she is in charge of the commercial portfolio and board member of Muruguru Girls Secondary School, a school in the rural county of Nyeri in Kenya.

Meklit Abdella - Head Advocacy

Mrs. Meklit Abdella

Head of Advocacy

Mrs. Meklit Abdella is a women entrepreneur and Data Scientist with nearly 15 years of international experience. She has worked with global organizations such as the United Nations and global brands, gaining valuable expertise in various fields. As the Co-founder and Managing Director of Queen Nyabinghi LTD in Rwanda and Meklit Technologies in Ethiopia, Meklit has been instrumental in numerous investment and business projects across Africa, including Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.

At Queen Nyabinghi LTD Rwanda, Meklit’s company focuses on exporting and adding value to agricultural and mineral products. Additionally, the firm serves as an investment consulting agency, offering comprehensive pre-investment and after-care services to individual investors, trusts, and international financial service providers.

Meklit is driven by her passion for creating positive change in people’s lives through education and human-centric solutions. She envisions making significant contributions to the ongoing development of the African continent. Empowering women and girls across Africa is a cause particularly close to her heart. Meklit’s deep-rooted commitment to Pan-Africanism is evident in her efforts to celebrate the continent’s rich heritage and promote its progress.


Aisha Ibrahim Qumrudin

Head of Projects

Aisha is an Economist by Education. She is a mother of two brilliant daughters. She is a seasoned Human Resource Professional. She is a serial Entrepreneur with a fully E-Commerce Direct Selling Company that has a market reach of over 120 countries and a diverse range of over 300 products. She is a dedicated advocate for global success. Aisha firmly believes in the transformative power of education and mentorship. As an entrepreneur, she is constantly seeking innovative ways to navigate the ever-evolving business landscape. Aisha is passionate about creating a positive impact and is committed to leading by example in both her professional and personal endeavors.

Through her work, Aisha is committed to breaking down barriers and creating opportunities for individuals to thrive in the global marketplace. She is a strong proponent of creating a more inclusive and diverse business environment, where everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Aisha is driven by a deep sense of purpose and is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of others.

At the core of Aisha’s mission is the empowerment of individuals to embrace their potential and achieve their dreams. She firmly believes in the power of collaboration and is dedicated to creating a brighter future for all. With her relentless drive and passion for empowering others, Aisha is unwavering in her commitment to making a lasting impact on the world.

Dorothy Liech

Dorothy “Dottie” Liech

Head of Fundraising & Partnerships

Dottie is a highly accomplished professional with a diverse range of  experience and expertise. As the Africa Regional Director and Head of Communication at the Nordic Global Investment Foundation, she is crucial in promoting the African development agenda. Dorothy’s extensive career spans over a decade, during which she has  gained a deep understanding of political economics and entrepreneurship.  She has been instrumental in the successful transition of Kenya’s  Devolution system of county governments and has developed a wealth of  global engagements. With her expertise in trade-related issues, she is a  force to be reckoned with in the international business


In addition to her professional pursuits, Dorothy is a visionary entrepreneur  passionate about empowering women and youth. She is the founder of  Dowan International Foundation, which focuses on women and youth  entrepreneurial education in Africa. She also runs Premier Plan Agency, an  award-winning consultancy specializing in travel logistics, resource  mobilization, and PR. Furthermore, she leads Fashion with a Purpose, a CSR arm that fundraises for education, medical camps, and other charitable  causes through fashion events. Dorothy’s dedication and drive have earned her numerous accolades and  recognition. She is a recipient of the prestigious Presidential or Duke of  Edinburgh’s International Award in Kenya and has been awarded the Most Impactful Female Entrepreneur Award by Women in Business Kenya. She  is also a current nominee for the African Humanitarian Ambassador of the  Year Award.

Enyidiya Uwa Ojike

Enyidiya Uwa Ojike

Head of Finance

Enyidiya Uwa Ojike is the Co-founder and CEO of OVAC Group, an international consultancy based in the United Kingdom and Nigeria that offers pragmatic financial advisory and project management solutions, a Certified Consultant in Banking, Finance and Allied Matters (CIBN), a Certified Wealth Management and Financial Planner (CFI), the MD/CEO of EFB Industries Limited (a wholly owned palm oil processing company located in Abia State).

She has over 20 years’ experience in the Financial Services Industry which includes Retail, Branch, Corporate, Institutional and Microfinance Banking. She is skilled in Business Planning, Financial Planning, Financial Analysis, Banking, Accounting, Credit Risk, and Portfolio Management.

She holds a B.Sc. Degree in Banking and Finance from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and an MBA from Lagos Business School (LBS). She is an Associate of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI) and Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), a member of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN), the Financial Secretary of CBW-Africa Nigeria Chapter, the Head of Finance of Commonwealth Business Women Africa (CBW-Africa) and a Director of Ohafia Microfinance Bank Plc.


Nana Wanjau

Vice President

Nana Wanjau, is the 2022 Woman With a Mission Recognition and Achievement Award winner. She is the Global Women in Leadership Awards 2022 winner, She is East Africa
Woman Leadership Award 2019 winner. She is the 8th of All African Business Leaders Award
(AABLA) winner, she is the Philanthropist of the year EA Award winner and she is the
Harmony Institute Philanthropy Award winner.
Nana is an impact Pan African Leader.
Nana is the Administrative Director for Eastern, Central & Southern African Regions for Commonwealth Women Network (CWN); a Commonwealth Accredited Organisation. She is the Vice President of Commonwealth Business Women – Africa, an affiliate of CWN.
The Pan African Chamber of Commerce recently appointed Nana Wanjau to head the Chief Gender Office for Africa.

Her role will involve mainstreaming gender in the Pan African Chamber of Commerce programs and operations. She is instrumental in the establishment of the Women Entrepreneurship Centres across Africa.
Nana is passionate about women empowerment through social and economic
advancement; She is the Founder of PowerWoman International; they build homes for Ostracized Widows: No woman should lose her dignity nor rights because she lost her husband. Widows are
supported through four pillars; Shelter, Counselling, Economic Empowerment and
Education for children.
Nana sits on numerous board, including the Advisory Board of the Centre for Research on African Digital Policies and Innovations (CRADPI); headquarters in Pretoria, South Africa.
Nana is a long term mentor in the Global Give Back Circle mentoring the next leaders from the Mastercard Foundation Programs.
Nana Wanjau is the Past President of the Rotary Club of Nairobi East.
@ She is an Alumni of the Strathmore Business School and Lagos Business School.
@ She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School Executive Education Program: Harvard Leadership Principles/Strategy Execution and Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies with a focus on Africa.

Mrs Ngozi Oyewole.

Ngozi Oyewole M.CIoD FITD


Mrs. Ngozi Oyewole is a highly accomplished entrepreneur and leader with over 20 years of experience in business management and strategic planning. She is the founder of Noxie Limited, specializing in furniture production and personal protective equipment, she has a background in Business Administration and is a certified Interior Designer. An alumna of SAID Business School and University of Oxford, UK. She is a passionate advocate for women’s inclusion in business and holds the position of President at Commonwealth Business Women Africa (CBW-Africa). Her global recognitions stem from her work in women’s leadership, business sustainability, and energy transition.

Her achievements encapsulates various strata of human endeavour and notable mention will be made of a few of them

1) The Board Chair/President and Founder of Strategic Women and Youth Institute (SWYI)
2) Council Member of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN)
3) Current Chairperson of the Wood & Wood Products/Furniture Sectoral Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN)
4) The former Vice Chairperson of Commonwealth Business Women Network (CBWN), Nigeria
5) A 2019 award recipient of an Exceptional Leader of Excellence from the Women Economic Forum (WEF) and All Ladies League.
6) One of the 32 Women Amplifying the Voices of African Leadership -2022
7) Nominated in 2015 by Forbes Magazine as one of the leading entrepreneurs in Africa Championing Business Sustainability and Women Inclusion
8) Business Woman of the year Nigeria from Women in Management, Top 50 Global Awards, Sri Lanka – 2022
9) A Vital Voices Fellow

Beyond her professional pursuits, she is dedicated to philanthropy, supports widows, empowers young women, and is involved in initiatives for the less privileged.

Remmie Male

Remmie Male

Continental Executive Secretary

Remmie Male is the Continatal Secretary Commonwealth Business Women Africa, Founder/Executive Director CBW-Africa Uganda Chapter. Remmie Male is an author of Gangos, a multi-talented serial entrepreneur in the fields of writing, business incubation, mentorship training, motivational speaking, and executive coaching. She is the founder and executive director of Women of Valor Foundation plus Jamboree et Rendezvous, as well as the Vision Bearer of Beauty For Ashes and Tender Warriors Ministries.

With a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from Makerere University, Remmie has utilized her expertise as the founder of Jamboree et Rendezvous, an events management and PR firm. Through this venture, she has been involved in projects involving fundraising, profile raising, and community empowerment of her client’s companies, with a focus on economic empowerment, harmony, prosperity, and general well-being of the people in her community. She is the country Director Pivoting in heels an African platform that profiles leading women in Africa and compiles them in a coffee table book per country with the Lady running state house writing the forward.

As the proprietor of Women of Valor Foundation, Remmie is dedicated to economically empowering women and youth through mentorship, executive coaching, business training, and entrepreneurship trainings. Her foundation has made significant impacts on individuals and communities, providing the necessary tools and guidance for them to thrive. 

In addition to her entrepreneurial endeavors, Remmie is also an author.

Her book, Gango, delves into the power of networks and how they impact our net worth. It also provides valuable advice and inspiration from powerful women worldwide, sharing their tips and philosophies on succeeding in business. Remmie’s contributions have been recognized internationally. She was honored as one of the 60 global community leaders for 2011 by the State