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Unisa SBL to host first International Engaged Scholarship Conference

Trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) started on 1 January 2021. The AfCFTA, with its 35 signatories, is an instrument that legitimises the creation of a single continental market for goods and services. The free movement of business, people and investments lays the foundation for an integrated, prosperous and inclusive Africa. One of the expected outcomes of the agreement's implementation is to boost intra-African trade. Currently, intra-African trade accounts for between 10 and 16 per cent. The agreement is expected to accelerate growth and sustainable development by doubling the overall intra-African trade by 2022 and tripling trade in agricultural goods by 2023. However, we are still far from meeting these targets, and more needs to be done, according to the Unisa Graduate School of Business Leadership (SBL).

From 14 to 16 August 2022, the Unisa SBL in collaboration with the Journal of Public Administration (JoPA) will host the first International Engaged Scholarship Conference to engage on practical solutions to fast-track industrial development and regional integration. Themed "Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) - Leading Change in the Public and Private Sectors", the conference is a platform for public and private stakeholders to contribute their intellectual prowess towards creating collaborative opportunities across sectors and between urban and rural businesses; local, national and regional enterprises, to create sustainable economies. The conference also seeks to identify ways to tackle developmental integration and growth issues in the context of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement.

We want all stakeholders to collaboratively contribute solutions to improve the current trajectory of the continent's trade targets. Policymakers, revolutionary academics, agents of change and indigenous knowledge-holders must contribute to creating collaborative opportunities. In addition, the public and private sectors, urban and rural businesses, and local, national and regional enterprises need to devise solutions on how we can intentionally drive intra-Africa trade to create sustainable economies.

Today's world is an interdependent trade ecosystem. The signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area in 2018 underpins the commitment of African leaders to operationalise the interdependence of economies in the African region.

Trade interdependencies pose challenges for policymakers and opportunities for local and cross-border traders. However, challenges abound when economic policies do not create an enabling environment for local and international trade to be optimised.

Forward-looking trade policy frameworks are crucial in international trade, but these are not enough to transform and align African economies with the needs of the current digital industrial revolution. Without a special kind of policymaking acumen and leadership sensibilities that unlock capabilities to navigate the global business environment nimbly, the policy environment will still not yield inclusive growth.

If the continent is to meet the targets of the intra-Africa trade, all stakeholders must come together to determine a more practical way to drive trade across borders. There is an urgency needed in driving these efforts – more so as African economies have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 1st International Engaged Scholarship Conference will be held from 14 to 16 August 2022 as a hybrid event. The event will be held at the Unisa SBL Campus, corner of Janadel & Alexandra Avenues, Midrand. The event will also be hosted virtually.

* By Prof Nhlanhla Mlitwa, Director of Digital & Innovation and the Chairperson of the Research portfolio at the Unisa SBL

Publish date: 2022/07/27