I know you are like, “what is AfCFTA?”
And before you ask, no, I haven't been paid to tell you this.
AfCFTA stands for the African Continental Free Trade Area, is essentially a trade agreement aimed at creating a single market for goods and services across African countries.
Imagine countries across Africa saying, "Let's trade without those annoying extra charges!" It makes buying and selling across borders as easy as sharing a meal with your neighbor. The big idea? Smoother trade, stronger economies, more jobs, and a chance for better prices on a wider range of goodies. Think of it as Africa's grand economic get-together – less red tape, more prosperity!
It was a sunny, lazy Sunday. I woke up to find my favorite music artist had liked our post on Instagram. Half-asleep, I made my way to the kitchen, craving something warm to shake off the morning chill. Surprisingly, nothing appealed to me, so I settled for a fizzy lemonade, sweet and slightly chilled.
I checked in with my friend. We were in this adventure together, the kind of friend you call when you're up for anything. I mentioned I was getting ready, though, in reality, I lounged on the couch, absorbed in Chinese dramas. Yes, I'm on my way to becoming fluent in Chinese (没错, delulu is the solulu).
By noon, I had texted my driver, "Give me 20 minutes," yet it took me 40 minutes to step out. The delay was puzzling, considering my makeup was a rushed, five-minute job, and admittedly, not my best work.
Upon arrival, the registration process was smooth, albeit unremarkable, akin to a routine check-in. The conference hall was a hive of activity, brimming with people and a kaleidoscope of products, each redefining boundaries in their unique way.
The event was a success, uniting people from two countries with a single purpose: united commerce. Yet, I couldn’t shake off a sense of being underwhelmed. Partly, it was the realization that trade shows like these, being annual, wouldn’t return until the following year. I understand the costs involved in organizing such events, but I couldn’t help feeling that small businesses that had invested time and resources to be there lacked adequate representation. Conversations with vendors revealed a common hurdle: the absence of retailers in Tanzania for their products, implying future purchases would necessitate exorbitant shipping fees. The lack of a freight forwarder to transport goods from Ghana to Tanzania added to the complexity, making the idea of partnering with Ghanaian businesses seem daunting and foreign.
I had anticipated a strong presence of Ghanaian businesses but was surprised to see several Tanzanian businesses as well. It wasn't a complaint, just an unexpected observation.
Secondly, the AfCFTA Ghana expo seemed to miss focusing adequately on B2B (Business to Business) enterprises, especially the smaller ones. This oversight in addressing the B2B segment, crucial for fostering long-term business relationships and trade opportunities, was a noticeable gap in the event’s structure.
I had expected a multitude of suppliers, a presumption that was mine to bear. My expectation of a predominantly B2B approach was met with a reality leaning more towards B2C. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with B2C, the event's atmosphere didn’t seem as inclusive as I had hoped.
B2B interactions are vital for establishing sustainable, long-term business relationships. The minimal emphasis on this aspect might have constrained the potential for enduring trade partnerships. Considering that smaller businesses play a significant role in driving economic growth and employment, their limited engagement or benefit from such expos could have broader economic implications.
A four-day event of this magnitude needs extensive advertising, especially given the tight schedule. In today's digital age, a more inclusive promotional strategy is essential to enable businesses and individuals to plan and prepare adequately. The marketing seemed to target an inner circle, providing insufficient time for broader preparation. The official page did little to spotlight the participating businesses in advance—a crucial aspect in a region where people appreciate a preview of what’s to come.
This is how I think AfCFTA can excel next year: A four-day event isn't necessary to understand the Tanzanian market's preferences. Yes, hundreds might fill in your questionnaire, but they only represent a small fraction of the consumer population. In a country as diverse as Tanzania, this limited representation can lead to skewed or incomplete insights. With digital technology advancements, other methods like online surveys and social media analytics can offer broader, more cost-effective ways to understand consumer preferences. Creating online surveys months before the event is an excellent strategy for gathering useful information.
Inviting entrepreneurs from various industries across both countries ensures a diversity of products and services, enriching the trade opportunities at the expo. Collaborations with organizations like the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) and Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) can facilitate more targeted participation, matching the needs of businesses in both countries and fostering meaningful trade relationships. TRA and TBS can use their access to operational businesses and SMEs to extend personal invitations for sourcing from Ghana and vice versa, boosting trade and simplifying logistics due to the existing demand. This means that AfCFTA will now have access to more than 2,000 tax-paying businesses as attendees who already have a pre-existing clientele base ready to purchase products in the market.
Incorporating institutions like the Small Industries Development Organization (SIDO), Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), and the Vocational Education and Training Authority (VETA) to host workshops and seminars could provide invaluable educational content. After all, trade isn't limited to products; skills and insights are equally valuable. Opportunities without long-term education are like seeds without soil. These sessions could significantly aid participants in navigating the complexities of AfCFTA within Tanzania's context, emphasizing the importance of increased trade and collaboration for economic growth, job creation, and innovation in both countries.
Such initiatives align well with AfCFTA's goals to create a single market for goods and services across Africa, thereby enhancing trade between member countries.
On a brighter note, I loved meeting several business owners who are thriving in their fields. Take Pearl, the owner of Sahara Solace, for instance. Her energy was infectious. I recall being taken aback upon learning she was the owner, and her liquor brand, Sahara Solace, was delightful. It felt smooth and sweet, yet the alcohol presence was unmistakable. Her branding, energy, and content are top-notch, and the industry she has chosen has made me admire her all the more. For anyone in the entertainment or F&B industry, Sahara Solace is a must-have, especially being made in Ghana by an African woman.
Kamini Chocolate by Grace and Lucy was another highlight. The quality of the chocolate impressed me, though I pondered the logistics aspect. Shipping costs tend to decrease with larger quantities. I'm planning to use Kamini Chocolate for private events and PR packages due to its unique appeal.
Here's Kamini Chocolate's information for orders: Minimum order: 200 pieces - 7,300 TSH (approx. 2.83 USD). For custom orders, a lead time of one week is needed, with an additional two weeks for design. You can reach them via their Instagram: @kaminichocolate.
Lastly, there's Peric Bespoke, who creates bespoke brass jewelry with local artisans in East Africa.
Based in Tanzania and originally from Cameroon, his energy and dedication to his craft were evident. Anyone looking for custom jewellery collaborations should definitely consider reaching out to him.
Meeting these three business owners on the last day of AfCFTA was a blessing, if you’re reading this, I loved everything about you at the AfCFTA. I had hoped to see their booths emptied and sold out, but I know this is just the beginning for them. And speaking of beginnings, let’s not forget about Prince, our incredible Shea butter supplier from Ghana, he is also Ghanaian and the first one we ever worked with up close and personal. We’ve had him on board at TPM from day one, and he’s as fantastic to work with as his products are to use. I was half-expecting to see him at the expo – because it is always a pleasure catching up with him, just like when we first met in Dubai.
The journey of starting and running a business is arduous, but their perseverance is inspiring. Having the right community is crucial to entrepreneurs and I love seeing AfCFTA build something so phenomenal. I hope other small businesses looking to expand their horizons will continue to push forward and find their path to success.