Opinion: Virtual Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Webinar Conference

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Hi there..

It’s me, The Digital Diplomat!

The South African Consulate-General Chicago, in collaboration with the State of Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (#DCEO), the African Global Chamber of Commerce and the Chicago Minority Supply Development Council organized the “Virtual Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Webinar Conference: Implementation & Opportunities” on August 20, 2020.

Although there were some technical challenges and we were not able to hear from him directly, Honorable Wamkele MENE, Secretary-General of #AfCFTA Secretariat, African Union was the appointed Keynote Speaker. The Conference convened Illinois and Africa public and private sector officials to discuss trade opportunities offered by the implementation of AfCFTA.

I decided to capture what attending virtual events look like now amidst COVID19. For me, it’s making sure I am up early to set up all my technical gadgets before my children wake up. That usually means two computers; one is for watching the video conference and the second is for typing my notes.

Being that I am a young mother of two young children, attending events now means having my children screaming or arguing with one another in the background. It used to really bother me and create anxiety (as I am sure for many parents and guardians juggling both commitments) but, over these past few weeks, I’ve learned to think about it positively because when my business partner Naomi Cook and I would travel across the world for 1 to 2 weeks at a time almost every 90 days pre-COVID, I would miss them deeply. I thank God for a loving and supporting husband who does his best to occupy them with an activity in another part of the house so I can channel in and listen to the wealth of knowledge that is shared on these virtual events.

So, let’s get right into it..

As you may or may not know, our company the Virtual Global Consultant Group  designs and develops eCommerce websites and mobile applications to help entrepreneurs, companies and organizations generate sales and donations online. Over the past few years, we’ve been specifically helping African-based SMEs launch online businesses to help increase international exports of Made in Africa products. For example, in one year, we helped an African-based beauty entrepreneur from Ghana increase monthly average sales from 2.5K to 15K. Our two top markets for selling the beauty products were the USA and Canada.

Currently, we’re piloting our digital incubator Aftown Mall. The vision is for Aftown Mall to be the #1 online marketplace where you can shop all 54 African countries. We consider it a digital incubator because entrepreneurs on the platform are being educated on how to leverage digital technology to scale their business around the world through exports.

One of our favorite ways to describe what we do is that “eCommerce is the vehicle we build to drive economic development but entrepreneurs are in the drivers seat to steer the wheel”.

With that said, you can see why it’s really important for me to stay in front of the various conversations that are taking place concerning AfCFTA and ensure I engage in conferences, events and access resources made available online, especially in this midst of our global health challenge that has altered our normal ways of engagement.

A special thank you to all the organizers of this event. It was extra special to have heard about this event via Linkedin from a post made by the Consul General at the South African Consulate General Phumzile Mazibuko. I met Ms. Mazibuko earlier in the year at an event here in Michigan hosted by Automation Alley called Doing Business in South Africa.

From left to right: Phumzile Mazibuko, Consul General at South African Consulate General, W.E. Da’Cruz, The Digital Diplomat and Cofounder at VGC Group, Shakira Motan, Trade Commissioner South African Consulate General, Kiah Childers, Marketing Intern at VGC Group

I enjoyed all the speakers and panelists. Each perspective shared encouraged me to think deeply about what AfCFTA means to me and how I can better support the growth of more SMEs through the work we do at the VGC Group.

The Hon. Dr. Peter Mathuki (PhD), Executive Director/CEO East African Business Council (EABC) said, “Africa is the next factory of the world.” He continued to explain that Africa has raw materials that are not available in other parts of the world; and that Africa has mass land that can be used to set up factories and companies.”

I agree with these statements and have found it true as it pertains to some of the product-based items Made in Africa by my SMEs. The scarcity of such products in other parts of the world is what we explore when thinking about digital marketing and what location/market would be best to export/sell the product(s).

He continued to explain that Africa has better organized regional blocks and the Free Trade Agreement is helping to facilitate easier, faster and more streamlined trade. This alongside the advancement of digital technology and fintech applications are fostering deeper inter-connectivity.

Although traditional infrastructures are still very big challenges for Africa, digital infrastructures are breaking all kinds of social, cultural and economic barriers. We can absolutely see this in many countries across the region ie. South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda – to name a few. 

The conference speakers discussed the importance of eCommerce and ICT in the integration of custom systems and merchandising. This of course peaked my interest and I specialize in eCommerce and digital technology. Mr. Peter Varndell, CEO SADC Business Council, also expounded on the growth of digital infrastructures and digitization.

One question posed at the end asked: What does regional integration mean to you?

I’ll end this blog post with my answer. At this stage in my journey, regional integration as it pertains to AfCFTA means that SMEs will have a widen opportunity to do business with one another which will increase the chances of business growth and as a result help to foster more job opportunities across the region. 

I’ll write a more in depth blog about the rate of unemployment across the region and how that is affecting the quality of life, but regional integration is surely a step forward in the right direction.

I enjoyed listening in on the virtual conference and will continue to do the work to help grow and scale SMEs across the region.

If you support me and the work that I am doing, kindly share this post and comment below with your thoughts and perspectives. If you would be interested in an interview, I’d love to explore that possibility. Lastly, if you would like to have me participate in an event you are hosting or know of, please click here.


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