This article was first published in the November/December 2019 Africa edition of 
Accounting and Business magazine.

While the UK concentrates on exiting Europe and the US engages in trade wars with China, Africa is focusing on its longstanding integration agenda.

In the last six months the media has been full of the opportunities the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will unleash. But for the average African, and for African businesses, the pace of change is slow and the much-touted benefits too far off to be tangible.

Navigating the wide variety of languages, customs, political systems, races, not to mention currencies and market systems, of such a vast and diverse collection of peoples across a massive, largely undeveloped, continent is going to be the biggest challenge to the ambitious integration plan.

That’s why I am heartened by moves such as the AfroChampions initiative, which seeks to reshape the African renaissance by driving integration and investment via the private sector.

On the infrastructure front, the African Union has set out the vision and strategic framework for progress in the form of the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa. The AfroChampions have pledged to mobilise the private sector, in Africa and beyond, to accelerate the continent’s economic integration by rapidly deploying the infrastructure projects that are critical to successful delivery of the AfCFTA.

The AfroChampions initiative cheers me because it represents efforts by the indigenous private sector to advance the continent’s structural transformation and economic integration via African multinational enterprises. Successful African entrepreneurs such as Aliko Dangote, founder and CEO of industrial conglomerate Dangote Group, and others like him, have emerged to provide leadership and ideas, and many believe this brings a much-needed balance to the discussion around integration.

What these entrepreneurs have in common is a successful track record in value creation across the continent and a deep knowledge of how Africa works. They also pay a significant amount of local taxes in the countries they operate in, giving them a say in these territories.

Finally, Africa’s entrepreneurs are making their voices heard. Backed by global financial muscle, entrepreneurial credibility and the absence of bureaucracy, they also have the ability to make things happen.

Another area where the private sector could play a role is in informing and educating Africans about the value of cooperating with their neighbours. The recent xenophobic attacks in parts of South Africa starkly demonstrated the steep hill that must be climbed if free trade and free movement of people is to be achieved across the continent. In the absence of a pan-continental newspaper or TV station, Africans turned to the BBC and other international media for information – it would be good to see Africa’s private sector step up and provide our own pan-African channels to promote greater understanding between Africans of different nations.

Alnoor Amlani FCCA is a director with the CFOO Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.