GIMPA, CRIA and Other Partners Convene in the 2023 Regional Integration Issues Forum (RIIF) for African SMEs


By Joyce Boahemaa Fosu

The Centre for Regional Integration in Africa (CRIA) and GIMPA, in collaboration with the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), organized the 2023 Regional Integration Issues Forum (RIIF) as a conference for African SMEs from September 27-28, 2023. Afreximbank and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) sponsored the event. The conference which was both in-person and virtual attendance was held at the Movenpick Hotel in Accra under the theme: “Breaking Business Barriers for AfCFTA Acceleration.” The 2023 RIIF aimed to increase awareness of the AfCFTA and its benefits for SMEs and strengthen SMEs’ capacity to engage in intra-African trade. It also aimed to demonstrate how AfCFTA could provide opportunities to mobilize resources and stakeholders, build capacity, scale up businesses, develop inclusivity for intra-African trade, create jobs, expand national economies, and develop a sustainable continental market and ecosystem that effectively meets the needs of African people.

Over 150 people attended the conference from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, and Zimbabwe, among other countries. Participants include SME owners, private sector executives, international and African trade experts, AfCFTA Secretariat representatives, regional business councils, academics, research institutions and think tanks, development institutions, financial institutions, African thought leaders and business influencers, and members of the media. In his opening remarks, Nana (Dr.) Owusu-Afari, Chairman of Afariwaa Group of Companies stated that the conference could not have come at a better time since SMEs were the backbone of major economies and contributed about 80 percent of the labour force in most countries, yet they were often marginalized. ‘Some of our governments do not understand the dynamics of informal SMEs, hence this situation. Also fueling the situation is the intra-African trade boundaries issue,’ he stressed.

Nana Dr. Owusu-Afari, therefore, urged AfCFTA to remove all artificial national boundaries to ensure the free flow of goods and services for intra-African trade. The Rector of GIMPA, Prof. Samuel Kwaku Bonsu stated that AfCFTA was more than just a trade agreement. According to him, AfCFTA represented a promise, a vision, and a chance to engage Africans in continental transformation. ‘To facilitate this transformation calls for our coming together as one big continent with the unity of purpose to ensure a much brighter future than the one that we have today,’ he said. According to Prof. Lehlohonolo Tlou, Executive Director of CRIA, Africa has come a long way in terms of regional integration, but there is still potential for development because Africans do not trade more frequently among themselves. ‘Thus, when we come together like this to talk about some of these things more often, we begin to understand what the possibilities are,’ she added.


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