Speaking with the BBC World Service Africa Daily podcast host Alan Kasujja, Ms. Kenewendo, who is a former Minister of Investment, Trade, and Industry in Botswana, explained that increased trade between African countries would not only provide opportunities for individual countries to grow their economies, it would also contribute to a strengthened sense of unity across the continent. She noted that limited levels of trade on the continent mean that “instead of seeing each other as allies we’ve seen competing sectors as just that: competing.”
Ms. Kenewendo cited difficulties getting across borders, and the belief that trade with other continents is more profitable, as just two examples of why, despite clear benefits, intra-African trade has remained limited. And, while the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement—which came into effect in January 2021 and aims to increase trade between African countries through the removal of 90% of tariffs on goods produced on the continent—will contribute to driving intra-African trade, Ms. Kenewendo said that the issue couldn’t be solved by simply eliminating tariffs. Instead, the underlying structures that give shape to biases that favor foreign goods and services over those from Africa must be addressed:
“ African countries have their system so closely linked to linear infrastructure colonial systems. So it’s easier to accept standard approved products from the US from the UK than it is to accept a standard approved product from Uganda.”
Acknowledging the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the continent, Ms. Kenewendo said that the pandemic had also served as a call to action across Africa and, if the right next steps are taken, could be a catalyst for greater growth and development:
“The pandemic has affected the entire global supply chain…It has really shaken leadership and many businesses to think about starting to produce some of those here; to think about adding value to our raw material that we’ve been sending outside the continent for processing, think… more proactively about industrialization on the continent.”
You can listen to the full episode here.