AfCFTA: Much More Awareness Campaign Still Needed
By Adebayo Abubakar
Adebayo: Have you ever heard of AfCFTA?
Khalid: AfC…what? After or what did you call it?
Adebayo: African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA.
Khalid: you’ve come again, with your “Dogo ń Trurenchi” (A Hausa phrase, meaning; “Long grammar”, if roughly translated).
This was what sparked about a 40 minutes tutorial with an artisan friend, [Khalid Abulesowo] in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital not long ago. Kwara State is located in the North Central region of Nigeria. A developing state with about 3 or 4 cities in addition to the State capital.
The tutorial focused on the meaning of the AfCFTA as well as the aims and objectives. My friend Khalid, is a welder who specialises in fabricating household items like chairs, tables, iron beds, cooking stoves and kitchen stools, made of iron and so on. When I took him through the numerous opportunities that abound in a fully operational AfCFTA, he began to show more interest than I envisaged.
However, the knowledge gap noticed during our lengthy interaction got me thinking as to how much needs to be done to get an average Nigerian, or even Africans informed about the new phenomenon. If I were to extrapolate, I would say, the story might not be too different in most African countries that are signatories to the “agreement”. If that be the case, then the earlier the awareness campaign starts, the better. This would bring people in the remote parts of Africa up to speed on the need to key into the vision of making Africa “a strong trading bloc” with a very high stake in the global economy.
This piece is a bit more focused on Nigeria because of how strategic the country is to AfCFTA. Readers might be wondering what it is that makes Nigeria so strategic? Nigeria, with an estimated population of over two hundred million, is such a massive market that would make producers within the bloc salivate.
Lagos Island, Nigeria. Credit: Council on Foreign Relations
I tried to know how much awareness there is at the grassroot in Nigeria. I then decided to use Kwara State, in the North Central region of Nigeria, as a case study; I contacted the State’s Ministry of Enterprise. As at the time of this publication, the Ministry did not have a commissioner for Enterprise as the State Governor was yet to appoint a new person, following a recent minor cabinet reshuffle. So, I was asked to meet the Permanent Secretary, who holds the forte, in the absence of a Commissioner. She would later direct me to meet with a director, who also directed me to meet with another senior officer below the position of a Director. I gathered from our interaction that he represented the State in most, if not all the seminars, workshops, and consultations organised by the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, in collaboration with the Nigerian AfCFTA office.
During our interaction, which lasted for over half an hour, he made me understand that the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Investment did carry the State Ministries along, with extensive consultations. And they at the State level, in turn, organised workshops, trade fairs and symposia, together with other ministries like the ministry of agriculture and natural Resources, ministry of Science and Technology; the state’s chamber of commerce and industry, among others who are expected to cascade the gospel of AfCFTA’s good tiding to their members. But beyond that, they did not do any form of campaign in either the traditional or new media due paucity of funds according to the official who craved anonymity.
Image credit: Premium Times, Kunle Sanni
The curiosity took me to the President, Kwara Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, KWACCIMA, Mr. Olalekan Fatai, for his view on the progress so far made in bringing AfCFTA to the awareness of operators of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMES).
In the exclusive interview, he made it known to me that the chamber has been involved in awareness campaigns that includes radio programs across the State; they have equally organised a Trade Fair which was themed “Trade Beyond Borders”. In addition, he talked about seminars and workshops organised in collaboration with the Nigerian AfCFTA Office and the State’s Ministry of Enterprise to educate and sensitise members of the chamber across the State on the enormous benefit of the agreement to the nationals of member countries. The seminar, according to Fatai, had in attendance, Chairmen of the Chambers of commerce in the 16 Local Governments Areas in Kwara State. He also stated that another seminar being organised by the Nigerian office of AfCFTA, was slated for 30th of June 2022. KWACCIMA is one of the umbrella bodies of the organised private sector in the State.
I had interactions with many artisans around the State. One of such groups is a traditional cloth, “Aṣọ-Ofi” weavers, [Aso-Ofii also known as Aso-Oke, a local cloth from the South Western part of Nigeria]. It is the traditional woven manually and worn by the Yoruba people, a tribe of the southwestern Nigeria, Africa] in Adangba and Okelele areas of the Ilorin Metropolis, and I discovered that much still needs to be done in terms of awareness and sensitisation of the people in the informal sector, especially, Micro Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, MSMEs so that they can also key in to the agreement and its vision. Most of them do not even understand that it is possible for them to export their products. Traders in four popular markets in Ilorin (Mandate, Oja Titun, Oja Ipata, and Yoruba Road markets) were also randomly selected and interviewed to measure their level of awareness. None of the 40 traders (10 from each of the markets) had an idea of what AfCFTA represents, even though, they were excited at the prospect of being able to carry out cross-border trading, without having to go through the rigours of scrutiny by men of customs and immigration at the border of each of the African countries which they may have to cross.
Aso-oke is the traditional wear of the Yoruba in Nigeria. Credit: Bellafricana
Interactions with furniture makers and other groups of artisans showed no sign of awareness about AfCFTA, let alone, its benefits and how to partake of it. An interaction with the Business Development Manager of a local Pharmaceutical company with a staff strength of over a thousand, also revealed that his organisation was not well-informed about how AfCFTA would work and the advantages for local firms like his.