Expert view: The critical policy issues for Africa in 2020

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Expert view: The critical policy issues for Africa in 2020

31 Jan 2020

3min min read
  • International trade
  • Education

With the start of a new year and decade, the Africa Portal reached out to some of its content partners to hear their thoughts on the most pertinent policy issues facing the continent in 2020. We spoke with representatives from the following institutes: 

What policy issue is critical to look out for in 2020?

  • AERC: There are two priority policy issues facing the continent in 2020, and as we look forward to a new decade: public debt management and youth employment. We argue that both are directly tied together and if remedied through long-term, sustainable policies, we believe the decade before us will be Africa’s decade.
  • CSEA: A priority policy issue for Africa in 2020 is how to concretely address the job crisis. The unemployment rate and vulnerable employment among the youths in sub-Saharan Africa are already among the highest in the world and the present demographic trend implies the problem will be compounded without a big and bold policy response.
  • IPAR:  Promoting Youth Employment and Education and Skills (YEES) and understanding the  policy implications for the future of work in light of the fast evolving digital innovations under the fourth industrial revolution.
  • ISS: From a policy perspective the most important long-term driver on the future of Africa would be agreement on the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), expected mid-year.
  • ZIPAR: The AfCFTA is likely to remain a salient policy issue for Africa in 2020 and beyond. 

Why have you highlighted this issue?

  • AERC: Populations in many countries across the region are young. By instituting policies to restructure current public debt burdens and seeking innovative partnerships to address the growing demands for infrastructure improvements, governments would go a long way to ensuring a more positive future for youth. At the same time, regulatory policies must be improved to enable more entrepreneurship to empower young people to engage their talents and skills to achieve a new level of sustainable economic growth. 
  • CSEA:  In the past decade (2010-2019), population growth in Africa outpaces the rate of economic growth. This modest economic growth has failed to substantially create jobs in the formal sector or spark an industrial revolution expected to create decent jobs. In 2019, young people below 25 years accounted for 60% of the African population, for example. This demographic structure has implications for the labour market in terms of the pace of new entrants, unemployment level and economic growth. Moreover, the poor job prospects for African youths lies at the core of many other problems such as migration crisis, violent conflict and insurgency. On the positive side, youths in Africa are tapping into the digital economy and other emerging opportunities to improve their personal wellbeing. However, the weak capacity of many African economies has not allowed youths to sufficiently explore these opportunities. Removing these barriers is the key policy issue going forward.
  • IPAR: The fast evolving nature of digital innovations under the 4th industrial revolution is likely to worsen the youth unemployment problem in Africa more so for countries that are  not prepared. It is therefore important to understand to what extent the current school curricula are preparing new labour market entrants to take advantage of the digital revolution in order to reduce youth unemployment in Africa.

"In 2019, young people below 25 years accounted for 60% of the African population."

  • ISS: The immediate next step for the AfCFTA is a conference of state parties, the establishment of the secretariat in Accra, Ghana, an African Trade Observatory and the completion of various technicalities. Once negotiations on trade in goods and trade in services are finalised, rules of origin negotiations have to be concluded as well as negotiations on tariff concessions. Then ‘behind the border’ trade issues on competition policy, intellectual property rights and investment will follow that will serve to deepen the AfCFTA. Countries joining AfCFTA must commit to removing tariffs on at least 90 percent of the products they produce, can compile a list of sensitive products (amounting to an additional seven percentage points) that are to be temporarily exempted, leaving a three percent exclusion list.  The plan is that by 2034 the full 97 percent tariff liberalisation be achieved.
  • ZIPAR: On 1st July 2020, trading under the AfCFTA will commence, at least for the 29 African countries that have signed and ratified the AfCFTA to-date. The AfCFTA, established to enhance intra-African trade through duty-free and quota-free market across the 55 states of the African Union, has been expeditiously endorsed with 54 signatories so far. As the initiative gains momentum in 2020, important policy questions remain: what is the value-add of the AfCFTA over the duty-free and quota-free provisions in the multiple Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Africa? Given the limited intra-trade within the existing RECs, will the AfCFTA prove to be any different? What are some of the potential threats given the socioeconomic heterogeneity in Africa? And as the AfCFTA scales up, what will be the fate of the 14-plus REC Secretariats in Africa?

(Main image: Beautiful young woman with braided hair in a bun standing in front of a wall with face in profile with Africa motif behind - stock photo/Getty Images)

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SAIIA or CIGI.