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By Siyanda Makhubo
The current nature of international relations, which is marked by a surge in diverse (economic, political and socio-cultural) crises, demands the mobilisation of joint capacities of states and non-state actors (enterprises and individuals), to find a durable solution that would help to improve the living standard in African countries marks the founding reasons of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
In line with agenda 2063 of the African Union (AU) which seeks to build the “Africa we want”, that is promoting intra-regional connectivity between capital cities by creating a single unified market, borders and air transportation network.
A conglomerate of varied states and industries will bring about a considerable shift in poverty alleviation, an influx in human movement via tourism, and a system that will work for women, thus promoting gender equality and women empowerment.
The AfCFTA is Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future. But what does that really mean for Africans and businesses most especially e-commerce like Jumia?
Prior to this initiative and till yet, Africa counts over fourteen economic blocs with eight recognized regional communities by the African Union. These include but are not limited to: the East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and; the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to name a few.
Many foreign to this concept will think that the AfCFTA will mean less safety for their country, borders and markets. However, the existence of these regional economic blocs may be seen by commentators as a hindrance to the development process of the African continent in its entirety on a continental level.
In reality, with these regional blocs, it is extremely difficult for sellers or enterprises of the East African Community (EAC) for instance in Kenya to easily trade with nations belonging to ECOWAS in Nigeria for instance. In reality, these regional blocs have different trading laws and agreements, using all different currencies with different levels of development and GNPs.
The priority of these economic blocs is to ensure continuous trade among its members, and promote diplomatic ties and security aspects among others. Nevertheless, this “security search” hinders the potential economic growth of the continent.
A perfect example is the case of e-commerce services. Under normal circumstances, e-commerce has delivery capacities of 24 hours to 3 business days on national territories where they operate depending on their operation sites and the land surface of the given country.
This means that one can expect their goods in a relatively short period of time for a much cheaper price compared to someone found in a neighbouring country and worst still one found in a different regional economic community.
Some challenges:
If Jumia, the leading e-commerce platform, for example, operates in Kenya and an online customer from Nigeria wishes to make transactions from their platform, they will generally receive their purchase after a relatively long period and with expensive constraints or maybe never (if there is no air connection) than if they were in Kenya.
This difference exists as a result of economic blockages put in place by regional economic communities. They include custom duties, tax, bureaucracy and just to cite a few. Since the cost of customs duties cannot be incurred by the producer, these costs are pushed down to the final consumer.
In nations where VAT (value-added tax) exists, consumers can see themselves purchasing a good for 1.7 times its original price. This is especially true for the 17 African States using the OHADA (Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa) accounting system. This generally has devastating effects on consumers who spend more in economies where they earn much less, and also on companies who find themselves shutting down due to lots of bureaucracy to follow and the high cost of existence in some regional blocs.
The Africa Regional Integration Index (ARII) in partnership with the African Union has a composite index that assesses how countries and regional economic communities are making progress towards their integration agendas based on sixteen indicators, grouped into five dimensions. The ARII also measures the state of regional integration of the continent as a whole with finality to make Africa more connected for businesses and persons.
The five dimensions are in respect to the free movement of people; infrastructure integration; macroeconomic integration; productive integration, and; trade integration. They are all pivotal for the success of e-commerce in Africa in particular and for development in general. Free movement means people will move faster and more efficiently thus promoting tourism and interculturalism.
Infrastructure integration means more route connectivity between countries (roads, railways and ports) and also fewer customs duties and bureaucracy. Macroeconomic integration takes into consideration the stabilization of economies, currencies and international conventions guiding the laws of trade. Productive integration supposes quality and quantity in terms of always equalizing demand and supply with respect to each country’s desires.
Lastly, trade integration means the elimination of taxes, embargoes, and the eventual increase in government subsidies to adapt to international trends and requirements.
Looking Ahead
Experts agree that regional integration expands markets and trade, enhances cooperation, mitigates risk, and fosters socio-cultural cooperation and regional stability.
Regional integration has also been shown to maximize the benefits of globalization while countering its negative effects and stimulating development in least-developed countries by improving productive capacity and encouraging investments in those pieces of infrastructure that hold the most economic potential.
This also means an opportunity for e-commerce to leverage profit margins and improve supply chain management on the continent. It is also an opportunity to foster African industries, making African produce more available and accessible to all.
Moving further, this continental agreement coupled with the internet penetration of the continent will exponentially propel e-commerce, as more Africans are beginning to cherish online shopping and home delivery services.
According to the UN International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) study ‘Connecting Humanity’, this is a representative market of over 700 million persons connected to the internet. A joint African market will also make Africa the largest free continental free trade area of the world, with an investment of about $97 billion in internet infrastructure.
The case made is that Africa will be a thriving market for e-commerce as well as e-commerce companies that will have to make available the necessary infrastructure for business.
Historically, working for the establishment of a common sub-regional market zone was necessary for the encounter of people located in the same regions.
It was also important for the reinvention of social cohesion that was traditionally observed in cultural cohabitation, local or traditional rediscovery and peaceful coexistence in sub-regional parts of the continent. It is of pivotal necessity that states accelerate the implementation of the AfCFTA for a sustainable Africa, which is peaceful and which is economically viable and competitive in the international arena.
E-Commerce as a solution to integration:
The argument made is that the AfCFTA offers the solution for an integrated African market by way of trade through economic regions and countries. This inter-trading through such platforms fosters countries and economic regions to have common regulatory frameworks, policies and laws which will speak to a coherent African market.
It is also true that digitalisation and the AfCFTA will offer new and existing SMEs the opportunity to not only expand nationally but also throughout the continent beyond existing digital divides as a result of existing laws and regulations. Legislators in each country, therefore, have a responsibility to align with the AfCFTA so as to bridge these digital divides.
Siyanda Makhubo is the Group Public Relations and Communications Manager for Jumia since December 2021. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, Law and Sociology, an Honours Degree in Marketing and Communications, a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Administration and is currently studying for an MBA with the University of the Witswatersrand.
He has more than seven years of professional experience in Communication, Risk and Reputation, Crisis Communication and PR Advocacy both in the Public and Private sectors. His interests lie in the subject of utilizing the PR and Communications system for social justice
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While there has been headway toward greater workplace diversity in recent years, there is still much more work to be done. There is undeniably a gender divide in all businesses, and one of these historically male-dominated industries is technology.
In fact, according to Deloitte Insight, large global technology firms are predicted on average to nearly reach 33% overall female representation in their workforces in 2022. This is slightly higher than 2 percentage points from 2019.
Additionally in Nigeria, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), women make up on average just 22% of the total number of engineering and technology university graduates each year.
While the IT industry often talks about inclusion and diversity, much more work remains to be done. And, more significantly, talk must rapidly become action. Both education and inspiration are required to close the gender divide in technology.
We must provide young Nigerian females with the required skills to seek equal opportunities in the future. However, where should we begin?  We spoke with industry leaders ahead of International Girls in ICT Day to hear their opinions.
Change stereotypes
With conversations on ‘jobs of the future’ happening everywhere, why does it feel like we are not making any progress that is quite definitive for everyone, questions Kuppulakshmi Krishnamoorthy, Global Head at Zoho for Startups. “Why does it look like most of the vision-and-mission statements only put ‘gender equality’ on a treadmill and also openly wonder why there are not enough girls in STE(A)M?”
“Knowing the importance of equal gender representation in tech is one thing, and doing what it takes to support, to become an ally, is an entirely different thing,” adds Krishnamoorthy. “To support gender equality in tech, the key players who have the power to propel this movement and those that can translate mere words into actions, have to have infinite compassion, and courage (born out of empathy and kindness) to constantly work on changing the stereotypes.”
Kuppu ZohoKuppu Zoho
With the assumption that the people in the driver’s seat of future innovation and policymaking already recognise the critical nature of gender equality in technology, Krishnamoorthy makes three recommendations for amplifying their support:
“On this International Girls in ICT Day, as we act with more focus and passion, and as we reach for the stars, let’s also promise to the posterity that the magnificent future will be built on a strong foundation of equality and inclusivity.”
Society must be aware of gender biases children grow up with
“When it comes to getting more women into tech or other spaces where we are underrepresented, language and representation matter,” says Aisha Pandor, CEO of home services company SweepSouth.
“We often hear that when females are assertive they’re seen as aggressive, but when males are assertive, they’re confident. That kind of language and those kinds of stereotypes start being entrenched when kids are young and impressionable. For example, as early as at primary school, when girls are studying maths and science, it’s well reported that many don’t feel confident enough in a class with other young boys, to put up their hands to answer questions.”
Pandor adds that as a society we need to be aware of any gender biases our children grow up with, and consciously untrain them, otherwise they occur at such a formative stage of development that they become entrenched and difficult to undo. “This awareness work needs to be done with both girls and boys, without leaving either by the wayside. We also need to highlight more women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in everyday life. If girls and women start seeing more women in spaces they wish to be part of, they’ll see their ambitions as relatable and achievable, and feel more encouraged to chase their dreams in this regard.”
Educate, mentor and guide
Despite our progress, there is still much more work to be done; as strange as it may sound, the gender divide in our technology business begins even before girls enter the workforce. “As is the case with many other professions, “technology” still carries many outdated stereotypes, and research indicates that girls are significantly less likely to study technology to consider a career in the sector,” says Dori-Jo Bonner, Strategist at Striata Africa.
Bonner believes this should not be the case, the youth of today has emerged in tech much more than ever before, from entertainment to education, the next generation is introduced at a young age to technology and all it has to offer.
“What young girls do not learn about are the job prospects available in the technology industry and the important need for women to be acknowledged and make a difference in this space. It is crucial that we educate, mentor, and guide young girls about these options because only through this type of mentoring and guidance can we begin to open doors to so many people whose abilities and talents are so sorely needed right now,” adds Bonner.
Break down barriers
Yes, the gender gap is everywhere. And arguably progress has most definitely been made, but there is still a long road to go. In particular, the tech industry is exploding, and the number of jobs available is growing. We need to break down barriers by providing mentors and role models who are women in technology to young girls.
Photography for Striata in Feb 2016 by Jeremy Glyn.
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By Lamin Manjang
The launch of a common currency called Eco in West Africa is yet to see the light of day after two decades and the question is whether events are starting to overtake the project.
With the latest 2020 launch deadline postponed because of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and no new timetable in place, there are concerns about whether the Eco continues to be a viable proposition.
This is despite the many advantages a common currency offers the 15 members of the ECOWAS trading bloc.
Removing trade and monetary barriers and meeting these targets across the region would have significant benefits for the countries involved.
Meeting the convergence requirements would instil greater fiscal discipline in the region and provide a mechanism for unlocking improved transactional efficiencies and ensuring more predictable monetary policy and inflation management as well as reduced risk.
Having a common currency would remove trade and monetary barriers, boosting economic activity and economic upliftment in this region of approximately 385 million people. This, in turn, would be a catalyst for new investment in the region.
But with no new date set for the launch, there are concerns the project may be drifting.
Of the 15 countries in the region, eight use the CFA Franc with seven using other currencies, which are not freely convertible.
Meeting the criteria for convergence in the region has proved to be a major challenge for big and small countries.
The primary criteria include single-digit inflation at the end of each year; a fiscal deficit of no more than 4% of GDP; central bank deficit financing of no more than 10% of the previous year’s tax; and sufficient gross external reserves to give import cover for a minimum of three months.
The six secondary criteria include tax revenue greater than 20% of GDP, wage bill-to-tax equal to or less than 35%, public investment-to-tax revenue equal to or greater than 20%, a stable real exchange rate and a positive real interest rate.
The disruption caused by the pandemic has led some countries to look at new monetary strategies.
The two English-speaking heavyweights have already shown little appetite for the Eco project. This is important, given their size and heft in the region, particularly Nigeria, which accounts for 65% of the regional GDP and about half of the population.
The economic giant fears losing its fiscal sovereignty and having to fall in line with regional policy. in addition, it is one of just two oil producers in the region, which it may need to employ monetary policy responses to terms of trade shocks that would not be favourable for other members of ECOWAS.
The introduction of digital currencies by the central banks of Nigeria and Ghana has raised concerns that they are already leaving the Eco project behind.
The launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area in 2021 has also led to concerted efforts by key stakeholders to find ways to improve the ease of trading across borders in the absence of a common currency.
One such initiative is Afreximbank’s Pan African Payment and Settlement System (PAPS), which will enable instant, cross-border payments in local currencies between African markets. This may not replace the benefits of a common currency but could lessen the appetite for it, given the other challenges of the project.
Many of the challenges plaguing the Eco are economic, but there are also political considerations.
Both the French president and of Cote d’Ivoire have said the Eco will maintain a peg to the Euro and guarantees provided by the French Treasury to maintain its stability even though French officials will no longer be represented on its governing bodies and a requirement that Eco member states keep half their foreign reserves in France will be rescinded.
However, non-Francophone countries have objected strongly to the new currency having any official links to a former colonial power.
It has now been more than two decades since the proposal for a common currency was first mooted, with the launch postponed four times, including in 2014.
There have been efforts to streamline the plan. The original plan to stagger the adoption of the currency in two phases was changed in 2014 to have all member states make the change at the same time.
But almost all countries still fail to meet the convergence criteria, with Togo being, to date, the only one of the 15 members to do so.  Despite this, the supporting regional infrastructure is in place, including institutions such as the Central Bank of West African States.
There are many other complex issues that need to be finalised such as addressing exchange rate mechanisms, policy harmonisation measures to control reserves and finding an exit strategy for those using different currencies.
The West African Monetary Institute and West African Monetary Agency have been created to drive the common currency project and the longer the delays, the cost of maintaining them will also increase.
ECOWAS leaders suggested that the launch was unlikely to happen before 2025 because of the pandemic’s likely economic impact on an already fragile region.
But on the current trajectory, another postponement may be in the pipeline. Something needs to change. Perhaps the convergence criteria need to be less stringent to get the project off the ground and all objections and concerns voiced and addressed.
Shifting launch dates will not address the many other problems plaguing this project. And all the while, the benefits of such a monetary union are being cast to the wind.
Lamin Manjang is the Cluster CEO, West Africa & Chief Executive Officer of Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria Limited
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By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Recently, this author has seen people (Deltans and non Deltans alike) argue that the success of the administration of the Governor of Delta State, Mr Ifeanyi Okowa, particularly in the infrastructural development and promotion of technical education in the state dwarfed that of his predecessors.
These efforts on the part of the Governor contributed appreciably to why Delta State was ranked the Best State in Human Capital Development in the 2017 States Peer Review by the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria, and also in 2020.
It is also responsible for why Delta as a state was adjudged to be the Second Least Poor State, coming only after Lagos, Nigeria’s business hub, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Despite the validity of the above declarations, I have also within this span, observed critics argue but scantly that Delta is a small state, oil-producing, and, therefore, can achieve its goals and record developments easily. That the success so far recorded in the state has nothing to do with creative leadership but a function of the availability of natural resources in the state.
Like the first group mentioned above, I have in a recent post among other things noted that the ongoing development in Delta State tellingly justifies the popular belief that creative concepts of leaders can bring both disruptive and constructive aspects; laced with the capacity to shatter set patterns of thinking, can threaten the status quo, or at the very least stir up people’s anxieties.
While noting that Okowa has in the past six years demonstrated that strategic success cannot be reduced to a formula, nor can one become a strategic thinker by reading a book, but through constant demonstration of competence, connection and character, the piece submitted that if one had visited the coastal areas of Delta State before May 29, 2015, till date, he/she may have concluded that the area was a location that has apparently never heard of civilization.
But under Governor Okowa’s administration, the people are coming to understand that education and infrastructural development of an area are the best tools for shaping the future of the people and not devices for an exclusive privileged few.
Among all the reactions/comments received, a particular one from a supposedly coastal dweller seems to stand out as it was a positive reaction with a sprinkle of agenda-setting.
Essentially, it read in part; Okowa has deflected the age-long excuse by previous administrations that the coastal region cannot be developed because the terrain is a marshy-a feature that renders construction difficult if not impossible, can no longer be sustained, this particular reader/respondent in line appreciated the Governor for the level of good/internal road networks and other infrastructural development- a feat that he said qualifies the Governor as the first to give a sense of belonging to the people of the region.
He, however, concluded that for the Governor to finish strong, he should construct road networks that will link Warri to Escravos terminals in Warri South-West Local Council Area of Delta and another from Escravos to Forcados terminal in Burutu Local Government Area as well as complete Ayakoromo Bridge to link communities in Ughelli South and Burutu Council Areas.
More specifically, further analysis of his comment reveals that while the first part of his comment acts as a morale booster to the state governor, the second part is the demand for the construction of road networks that will link Warri to Escravos terminals in Warri South-West Local Council Area of Delta and another from Escravos to Forcados terminal in Burutu Local Government Area, as well as complete Ayakoromo Bridge to link communities in Ughelli South and Burutu Council Areas, performs agenda-setting function for the state governor and his team.
Continuing, he said the bridge project has lingered for a very long time having been awarded by the now outgone Emmanuel Udughan administration. The project has in fact thrust a responsibility and extremely important destiny; to complete this process of socioeconomic rejuvenation of the people of the riverine community which the state has spent far too long a time doing.
Like the Bomadi Bridge which was executed by Chief James Onanefe Ibori’s administration, connecting three local government areas, (Burutu, Ughele and Patani), likewise, the Ayakoromo bridge going by commentaries, when completed, promises to promote the socioeconomic lives and wellbeing of  Deltans living in over in four local governments of the state.
Take, as an illustration, the Bobougbene community and its environs are reputed for the production of palm oil in commercial quantity and supply to Warri metropolis, and Okwuagbe markets in Ugheli South. The bridge when completed will provide easy access to these markets. Even more, it will open up the majority of communities that are yet to have access to the ‘uplands’.
In reputation terms, there are more reasons to applaud Governor Okowa’s effort in this direction. It is said that a leader’s image is an amalgam of a variety of factors, and followers must at intervals evaluate these perceived factors in order to dictate if they are in a positive or negative light.
Particularly, an image is capable of saying much more about a leader than any of his long speeches and verbal declarations and once established, the image becomes not just the leader’s picture but remains highly durable.
Even as this is being internalized, there exists yet another area of concern that in my view needs urgent attention in the coastal area of the state. It is in the areas of bringing primary and secondary schools close to communities in the coastal/riverine communities in the state.
Just very recently, I listened with rapt attention to King Monday Whiskey, Udurhie I, the Ovie of Iderhe Kingdom, speak on the challenges children of his kingdom need to confront to access education.
King Whiskey, who spoke in Lagos, among other things lamented that children in the Niger Delta must attain the age of 12 before starting from primary one because it is only at that age that children can be able to paddle their boat successfully to the other side of the community where their school is located.
In such a case, says Damilola Adeparua, a public affairs commentator, it is arguable that the percentage of uneducated women will be very high since it is only at the age of 12 boys can be allowed to paddle boats, then it will take a supernatural girl of 12 to start at that age. This makes the global statistics feasible that just 39% of rural girls attend secondary school and this is far fewer than that of rural boys, which is 45%, compared to urban girls, which is 59% and urban boys 60%.
Some of the girls who even live in communities which have access to free education and have their schools located in places where it is accessible are denied their right to education based on religious reasons, while some are hampered by poverty.
The issue of children’s education deprivation is not limited to girls as posited by UNICEF that one in every 5 of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria.
Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school. Only 61 per cent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education. Delta State, particularly the people of the coastal communities, is in my opinion not insulated from this challenge.
Why the state urgently needs to act on this new awareness is that school is far or close to the home according to what experts are saying definitely affects the student in many ways.
For the students living far from the school, the long commute every day is physically and mentally tiring and as a result, it’s harder to focus on studying after getting home. Their lifestyle is usually more hectic because of the travel. Most, if not all school-related events are actually near the school so the student has to travel to attend all that, too.
Comparatively, those who live closer to the school, are usually better connected to school and its events because, most, if not all school-related events happen near the school. And because of the small distance, they’re more up to date with it.
Also, a maximum of students who attend a particular school, live close to it, so they’re better connected with each other compared to the folks who live away and therefore tend to have more contacts and more connections. They are also more likely to become popular in school because they know a lot of people. They also are mentally more relaxed because they have a lot of time on their hands and they don’t necessarily have to deal with travelling.
The UNICEF survey says something else; there are still a huge number of those who are in school but are learning nothing, noting that schooling does not always lead to learning. In Nigeria, there are more non-learners in school than out of school, it concluded.
Admittedly, while the people of the region seem certain to make an increasing contribution to the development of the state as a handful of them can now afford the luxury of education and access to good amenities,  it is clear in hindsight that the Governor tackled this outlined challenges before handing over to the yet to be identified administration come 2023.
Achieving this feat will give the people of the region sense to feel that they have a governor that not only cares but act as a technique to support the people understanding of the Governor’s vision.
Most importantly, the state needs to pay attention to present challenges in the region as development professionals warn that preparing for the future involves, first of all, training our young citizens to lead the development process, driven by a sense of their absolute duty to maintain our economic evolution. This will encourage them to place their dynamic potential at the service of our society.
Indeed, the state has a wealth of young talents, and it is the responsibility of each and every sector of society to nurture them. This can only be done through proper education, training, support and encouragement; and by scouting for special skills and talents, while also nurturing creative initiatives.
Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374
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