Business Development Trade

UN agencies empowering East Africa’s SMEs, women and youth within AfCFTA

Workshop on positioning African businesses for inclusion in negotiations of AfCFTA protocol

Actors in the East African business ecosystem stressed the need to include small business owners in AfCFTA negotiations on the Protocol for Women and Youth.

The International Trade Centre, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women, collaborate with the East African Business Council to engage business support organizations in the region on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Held from 20 to 22 September 2022, the workshop saw over 70 representatives from the region who learned about the AfCFTA and its implementation progress.

The workshop also provided business support organizations with a comprehensive toolkit to tailor their services to small businesses and drive business competitiveness under a new liberalized African market. Small businesses especially women and youth entrepreneurs will benefit once Africa’s institutions in the business ecosystem are strengthened to respond to their emerging needs and advocate for their interests.

Businesses from other regions attending the workshop had the opportunity to network with counterparts from East Africa and displaying their products at the event. Also in attendance were representatives from the AfCFTA Secretariat, the Federation of West African Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development as well as the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

As the first collaboration between the three UN Agencies to engage regional and national stakeholders on the continental trade area, the Kampala workshop kicks off a series of joint trainings expected to support micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in taking advantage of the AfCFTA.


‘Women and youth are Africa’s greatest resource. The Covid-19 pandemic cemented the benefits of regional integration including in the East Africa Community. The AfCFTA is the silver bullet into the future. One Trade Africa, ITC’s corporate programme to promote regional integration on the continent, is steadfast to unlock $22 billion in intra-African export potential and empower small businesses, women and youth to access meaningful business opportunities under the AfCFTA.’

Ashish Shah, Director, Country of Programmes, International Trade Centre

‘Women and youth engaged in cross-border trade continue to face challenges and obstacles that limit their competitiveness and make their businesses less productive. We need to understand the priorities of women and youth and equip them with knowledge, skills, and information. This is incredibly important to empower them to participate in intra-African trade.’

Elsie Attafuah, Uganda Resident Representative, UNDP

‘We need to demystify the legal and policy context for women and youth. Sub-Saharan Africa and particularly Uganda has the highest number of women entrepreneurs in the world. I call for more inclusive participation of women and youth in policy negotiations, ease of access to finance, uptake of information technology for women traders, and deliberate actions, such as capacity building for small businesses on international and regional trade requirements, as well as the empowerment of women-owned firms to invest in trade opportunities under the AfCFTA.’

Adekemi Ndieli, Deputy Country Representative, UN Women

‘We need to improve the calibre of East African businesses in preparation for greater competition brought about by the AfCFTA and boost productivity in the region. The AfCFTA will not work if we ignore the role of women and youth. Information asymmetry, enforcement of contracts, expensive capital, and foreign exchange losses are among the challenges facing women and youth engaged in cross-border trade in the EAC block and Africa.’

John Kalisa, Executive Director, East African Business Council

About ITC and One Trade Africa – The International Trade Centre is the joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. ITC’s One Trade Africa programme sets out to enable, empower and enhance African MSMEs, women and youth entrepreneurs to access new transformative business opportunities created by the AfCFTA. The programme embraces a three-pronged delivery model which supports African MSMEs to Compete, Connect and Change at the enterprise, business ecosystem and policy levels. ITC provides African MSMEs with training, advice and coaching to build capacities, connect to new and more lucrative markets and create jobs.

About UNDP’s support for an inclusive implementation of the AfCFTA: The United Nations Development Programme partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in nearly 170 countries and territories, UNDP offers global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations. UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa contributes to the realization of an inclusive AfCFTA in the areas of (i) strengthening the competitiveness of African MSMEs, especially those led by women and youth while (ii) enhancing the capacity of national and regional institutions to create the enabling environment conducive to the realization of an AfCFTA that benefits all.

UN Women is the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. UN Women is the global champion for gender equality, working to develop and uphold standards and create an environment in which every woman and girl can exercise her human rights and live up to her full potential. It also supports the business ecosystem empowering women in Uganda to favourably compete in business for instance the Women Economic Empowerment Bugiri Project which has empowered thousands of women to engage in profitable fish farming.

East African Business Council: The East African Business Council (EABC) is the regional apex body of private sector associations and Corporates from the 7 East African countries. It was established in 1997 to foster the interests of the private sector in the integration process of the East African Community. EABC vision is a borderless East Africa for business and investment. The primary mission is to promote sustainable private sector-driven growth in the

About the International Trade Centre: The International Trade Centre is the joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. ITC assists micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries to become more competitive in global markets – thus contributing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. For more information, visit

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Byron Adonis Mutingwende