By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU – During her visit to Lesotho recently, the United Nations Development Progromme (UNDP) Assistant Administrator, Assistant Secretary General and Regional Bureau for Africa Ahunna Eziakowa said African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is an opportunity that youth and women could exploit to enjoy the economic benefits that come with it.

This she said during ‘Her AfCFTA and Her Empire’ event that was facilitated by the UNDP in concert with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Business Development and Tourism.

The African Union (AU)’s Agenda 2063 is operationalized by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

AfCFTA boasts opportunities for growth and sustainable development and it is projected to create a continental free-trade zone with a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of USD$3.4 trillion.

AfCFTA will unite the 55 AU Member States under a common market with a population of about 1.2 billion people.

“It’s been long coming when you have experienced a lot of cannot do, a lot of suffering, a lot of misery, a lot of obstacles and we are still soldering on, through it all,” she said.

“It’s not UNDP that is going to rescue you, please, let’s not bring that expectation. It starts with the governance culture that understands that the legacy of leaving no one behind is what they must embrace. And you are presiding over the country where no one feels left behind, where no one feels they don’t have access, they don’t have opportunities.”

“Today we are beginning to see signs of hope,” Eziakowa said.

She continued: “What you have demonstrated here today, is that we have an agency, an organization that is allergic to inequality, that is allergic to injustice, that is allergic to hopelessness and that wants to see the people who are most likely to be left behind and not only see them and ensure that everyone that needs to see them sees them and invest in them. This is what her empire is all about…”

Her empire, the UNDP Regional Director for Africa said it is a “revolution” adding that it is challenging the notion of the kind of empire building that has robbed everyone else of her livelihood. “Her empire is about compassionate business. We can achieve success where we treat business and people side by side. Success is being redefined in this room. Success is about holding somebody’s hand.”

She AfCFTA is a place where women and youth go to work, adding that they will not be left behind. She said women and youth should “globalize and regionalize” their voices. They cannot do it alone, with government by their side it is all possible.

“It’s not about Africa trading along, it’s about Africans discovering themselves,” she said and promised that the UNDP will support ‘Her Empire’ to be a permanent feature in the country.

“If you don’t locate yourself in the value-chain, if you don’t locate yourself in the supply-chain, then you are the spectator in this opportunity,” said UNDP Strategic Advisor for Africa Dr Joy Kategekwa.

She said not under their watch will there be women in the margins.

Woman entrepreneur, Nthati Matete who is into farming, said due to their locations and educational background, women find themselves excluded to having access to grants.

The Mohale’s Hoek-based entrepreneur said they have an investment club where they save on a monthly basis in order to have passive income.

Matete said as farmers, their challenge is that they do not have storage facilities and sometimes when they have to harvest their produce, unless they have the market, those crops rot and get destroyed.

Lesotho ratified AfCFTA in November 2020 and has submitted stamp impressions and signatures of Customs Authorities.

According to the Director at the Ministry of Trade, Mary Motebang, the AfCFTA Certificates of Origin are available.

She said the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) Tariff Offer was submitted in February this year and is currently undergoing Technical Verification, and upon whose finalisations of the Technical Verification, will SACU member states be able to start trading under the AfCFTA.

The Director highlighted that there is still some outstanding work Textiles and Clothing and Automotives categories.

“AfCFTA has a transformative effect on Lesotho’s economy resulting in the realisation of the key objectives of the NSDP (National Strategic Development Plan) II. Successful implementation depends on coordinated efforts of various stakeholders at national level (Government, Private Sector, Academia, Development Partners, Financial Institutions and other Non-State Actors.) Focus is on expanding national productive capacity [and] improving Trade Facilitation,” she said.

Motebang said the Private Sector should take advantage of the opportunities under the AfCFTA.

She highlighted that the need for mobilized Aid for Trade to support productive and export capacity for MSMEs in the cosmetics and natural ingredients as well as textiles and apparel sectors, noting the support from UNDP to develop business clusters for women in the textile industry. 

This move, she said facilitates business linkages with large industries as well as to support visibility activities on the AfCFTA.

“Further technical support has been obtained in the area of digitalization towards building capacity of women in digital entrepreneurship and e-commerce that are key to unlocking great opportunities for women entrepreneurs through seamless access to new markets and improved efficiencies for their businesses.  The Government is undertaking appropriate steps to ensure that women and youth are digitally enabled. 

“National Trade Policy Framework and National Trade Strategy developed – 2021 to 2025 upgrading of the Lesotho Trade Information Portal (LTIP) in December 2020 as part of the efforts to improve the predictability and transparency of the Lesotho’s trading laws, procedures and processes.

“Phase I of the Lesotho National Single Window (LNSW) has been implemented and was launched in June 2022. Two Government Agencies have been connected and the roll out into phase II is underway where ten (10) more Government agencies will be connected. Once fully commissioned, the LNSW:  Will reduce transaction costs for the private sector, Facilitate timely clearance and release of goods, Foster increased transparency and predictability in relation to the processes and procedures to be followed.”

The Director highlighted that E-Customs system (on-line tariff book) was also introduced in 2022 adding that the pilot phase of the Coordinated Border Management (CBM) has commenced at the Maseru border.

She mentioned that the non-tariff Barriers information and educational material has been developed and distributed.