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Africa Free Zones Association: How Do We Progress As Business

By Chris Ndibe
Africa Free Zone Association (AFZA) is a non-governmental and non-profit organisation. It is an association of all the Free Trade Zones, Special Economic Zones, Export Processing Zones, Multi-Facility Zone, Industrial Development Zones and Single Factory Zones in Africa. It is an association formed by its members in Cape Town, South Africa in 2004.
The Association was formed to create a change in the way we perceive and operate Free Zones in this part of the world. It is also meant to increase members  knowledge, skill wages and capital. This is a job that requires all hands being on deck with contributory ideas, coordinated by the Secretariat of the Association.
It is obvious that more and more countries, developed and developing, are recognising a new paradigm of free zone development and management.
The new paradigm is more dynamic, investment intensive, management driven, and enabling and integrated economic development tool as opposed to the old.
This new paradigm requires concerted efforts, not only on the individual zone level but collective improvement of ideas to enable us all move progressively, especially in this world of Global Value Chain (GVC) and the desiring ecosystem that progresses a scheme of this nature.
As opposed to international trade of the 20th century, today’s trade in intermediate goods and services are greater than that of final goods. The under listed bullet points serve as compelling fortress for the present day trade dynamics.
·         Importance in intra-industry trade is rapidly growing;
·         International production trade and investment are now organised within global value chain.
·         Different stages of production processes are located across different countries.
·         The whole process from raw materials to finished products is increasingly carried out wherever the necessary skills/materials are available or competitive cost and quantity.
·         These activities includes: design, production of components, assembling, marketing, and customer services, Research &Development, etc.
The message here is that export production no longer represents a 100 per cent value-added contribution to the economy.
The above analysis is presented to show why our togetherness would have been serving us better through knowledge sharing and networking.
We need to give ourselves the skills we need for jobs of the future and not for free zones of yesterday.
Though AFZA is a non-profit organisation but has responsibility to its members.
Members should run AFZA as a business if they plan to benefit from the association. In the light of this, members should ensure the association is positioned in a manner that yield enduring dividend. The following should also be adopted.
ü  The association should build credible data bank for networking opportunities.
ü  Increase the visibility for activities of member zones in the continent;
ü  Offer members education, information and news so as to be abreast with the current idea and tenets of free zones with the required creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Unfortunately, member’s zones and supervising authorities would not want to cooperate in submitting to the secretariat’s details of zones in their country for data bank and would not also want to pay annual dues to enable the secretariat function and carry out benign activities. It must be remembered that you cannot prepare omelette without breaking eggs.
 It is a candid declaration that if this laudable effort in trying to convert the collective initiative into business must be sustained, then sacrifice should serve as the compass.
A Free Zone blog was established to help educate members and pass news, recognising that Africa has all it takes to attract the establishment of viable Free Trade Zone to speed up development in the continent.
Free Zones is bound to attract positive business variables to the development of Africa: Be it rail, ports, highways and aviation. As a reminder, November 7 and November 9, Africa Business Community will converge on South Africa, for Africa investment forum. Stakeholders must take advantage of this stage to exchange ideas and share workability of policies around the industry. We all must remember that Free Trade Zone is both a development and wealth creation driver.
A cursory look at the economic indices of Africa shows a drastic shrink on inflow of funds from oil and gas with a conversely increases in capital from service industry and manufacturing, especially in the food and agricultural industry.
This has incontrovertibly shown that investment built around production and manufacturing of food related products for export remains the future of our continent.

We must change the game and close the investment gap in the continent especially with the continental Free Trade Association (CFTA) initiative which, as far as I am concern, remains pivotal to actualising the vision of CFTA initiative.
We cannot stand alone and get to where we want to be. An annual conference of the over 600 free zones in the continent is imperative. This will be padded with training that will assist Free Zone operatives and Free Zone developing companies with requisite knowledge.
With Africa’s population set to be two billion by 2050, we have the market and should set the pace. We must take Africa’s growth story further.
Unfortunately the African Union (AU) has been lukewarm toward the happenings around the Free Zones in Africa. Rather than stay aloof, the union should galvanize the activities of free zones through their department of Trade and industry. With their support, we can stage the fourth industrial revelation.