Information. Connections. Partnerships

Innovate for success

AI policy researcher Maha Jouini champions digitalisation of the AfCFTA Guided Trade Initiative

Maha Jouini ventured into the digital technology space to contribute to the development of an “African AI sphere,” and her efforts are paying off. She is a digital transformation consultant as well as an artificial intelligence and data policy advisor who founded Mauritania based pan-African think tank called African Center for AI and Digital Technology. Through this initiative, she offers support to companies seeking digital transformation and empowers women and youth in the field of digital technology.

Capitalising on the AfCFTA

You cannot capitalise on something without understanding the benefits according to Maha, and in the case of the AfCFTA, there is a general lack of commitment to engaging with resources that have been availed, and a lack of inclusivity with regards to information around the agreement.

“First of all, we have to promote the AFCFTA hub. I don’t know if many traders and entrepreneurs have gone through the AfCFTA website and checked out the hub because the hub helps organisations understand the digital ecosystem of the AFCFTA. And through it, we can take advantage of the agreement, all entrepreneurs can grow their business, extend their activities across Africa and advance their business models.”

Benefits of the GTI

Maha views the GTI as the perfect opportunity to facilitate the start of trading between countries under the AfCFTA agreement, particularly women and youth.

“I believe that the GTI can benefit women and youth and it can help women traders develop their business models and to grow their operations. At the country level, I am really proud that Tunisia issued three certificates of origin in May 2023. Tunisia is ready to receive imports from other states parties which have fulfilled their requirements. I am really proud.”

Challenges that need to be addressed with the GTI

Logistics top Maha’s list of challenges that need to be addressed under the GTI, followed by export procedures.

“I think the high cost of transportation by road, air and maritime limits the capacity of business from exporting to regional markets. For example if a Tunisian entrepreneur wants to export to Algeria or Morocco, it will be more expensive for them to do so, than if they were to export to France.”

“Secondly, we have limited knowledge on export requirements, which contributes to the low involvement of businesses in exports. Plus, we have the challenge of non-tariff barriers, which also accounts for the low level of participation in exports.”

Recommendations for maximising the benefits of the GTI

“I think we have to help the focal persons of the AFCFTA in each country and we have to support the AfCFTA Secretariat to make the GTI a success. Bureaucracy will stall progress. This project can only be successfully implemented if Africans on the ground believe in it and support it. The AfCFTA narrative is predominantly in English and a trader from Mauritania or Egypt cannot understand tariff and non-barriers and these concepts because of the language barrier. We have to bring the concepts to these people in simplistic ways.”

Technology as a catalyst of the GTI

Maha believes that technology can play a key role in facilitating trade and processes under the GTI.

“According to the ‘Digital Africa: Technological Transformation for Jobs’ report by the World Bank, the internet is a conduit for enhancing demand for products. For the GTI, AI can facilitate communication between traders and also it can accelerate processes. I have faith that technology will facilitate regional integration in Africa. Before, we used to say that we cannot come together because we are different, we do not speak the same languages on the continent and we do not have the same culture. However, thanks to technology, we are getting closer. Thanks to the automated algorithm used in LinkedIn, which allows us to connect, we have all of the assets and capabilities to create the Africa we want and to make United Africa a reality.”