The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) in collaboration with the African Union (AU) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat have organised ‘The Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF)’ in Durban.
The event which was a seven-day fair, under the theme “Building Bridges for a Successful AfCFTA” was tagged the biggest pan-African business event to take place since the pandemic began.
The AfCFTA was the central theme of the conference. With 54 African countries signed up, the free trade area, which began trading in January 2021 at the height of the pandemic, is the largest trading bloc to have been launched since the formation of the World Trade Organisation. African leaders are optimistic that it will be able to help unlock the continent’s economic potential.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa opened the event on 15 November, stating that this trade fair is about building bridges and about connecting countries, as well as connecting people. Now Africa is taking concrete steps to write its own economic success story and this Intra-African Trade Fair is part of that story. “Africa is opening up new fields of opportunity.” Ramaphosa said.
In his opinion, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria said “the African Continental Free Trade Area must make the effort to ensure that Africa must be a marketplace where no country is left behind, we must ensure that we create jobs and enhance revenues for all parties.”
However, the conference featured a series of panels across different sectors, including agriculture, automotives, e-commerce, logistics, politics, technology and tourism.
The conference saw leading players in the technology sector discuss ways to increase investment into African technology companies, as well as the growth for different areas of the industry, including in fintech, health tech and mobile.
This section tagged “Think Tech” was led by Angela Wamola, acting head of sub-Saharan Africa, GSMA, with a presentation on mobile connectivity in Africa. GSMA represents the interests of over 750 operators with nearly 400 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem worldwide.
Wamola emphasised that mobile money will be at the heart of the sub-Saharan economy in the future and said that 1.2bn people have currently registered mobile money accounts across Africa.
“The message is Africa is running the show when it comes to mobile money and therefore the lens we need to look at it is: mobile money is Africa’s greatest and key asset to lead for the digital economy,” Wamola said.
However, Fabian Whate, head of South African-based tech investment company Naspers Foundry, observed that at least 60% of venture capital investment in Africa is in the fintech sector. “This year we saw $4bn of venture investment [in Africa] that compares to an African economy of around $2 trillion. So really, we’re just beginning to scratch the surface.”
“As time moves on, we’re going to see further and further development across a broader array of sectors. As those sectors develop further and further, you’re going to see further capital come into them,” he added.
Speaking concerning health tech, Precious Lunga, founder and CEO of Baobab Circle, a health tech startup using AI and automation to remotely support people with chronic health conditions, said the conversation has shifted around health tech since the onset of the pandemic.
“When we had the conversation four years ago, people didn’t understand why health tech would be relevant across the African continent, because everyone was looking at tech investment through the fintech lens. Since then, that’s definitely changed.”
Meanwhile, Tanya van Lill, CEO of SAVCA (the Southern African Venture Capital and Private Equity Association), commented that she has seen more investment in health tech, as well as an increase in e-commerce and commercial last-door delivery, as during the pandemic people would rather order online than go to the shops.
Van Lill further stated that she is also seeing a rise in edutech investment and other tech space.