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Dr Rhulani Mahlaule's Impact on Intra-Africa Trade Integration

Introducing our remarkable alumnus, Dr Rhulani Ernest Mahlaule, whose commitment to his academic journey reflects a passion for African solutions, guided by factual reasoning and innovation. Driven by the goal of co-creating strategies, Dr Mahlaule envisions a future where Africa transcends historical stagnation, guided by the lessons learned during his impactful odyssey.



Our alumnus, Dr Rhulani Ernest Mahlaule comes with a rich background of boardroom work, as he is currently group chairman at Destiny Holdings and Destiny Business Science, chairman at Beyond Covid NPC, board member at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), council and finance committee member at the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), and global board member at the Circle for Global Business Women (CGBW).Previously, the man had served as director of companies, including serving as president at the JCCI, group chairman at the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency (GGDA), chairman of risk and audit committee at the Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership and Governance, as well as the Global Advisory Committee for Advancing Business Executives (ABE) UK.


This wealth of leadership experience may have moulded his views, shaped his thought about the state of the world – or even the African continent. In fact, Dr Mahlaule is of the perspective that the developed world has long demonstrated that there is collective leverage to be obtained in countries of the same continent – therefore, putting aside any differences they may have and optimising opportunities, this could potentially be achieved through working together as a united economic and socio-political force. This is a function of countries that maintain the necessary levels of mutual trust as evidenced by electing to trade more with one another before considering other continents. He adds, noting: “African states continue to conduct limited trade amongst themselves, characterised by high external alignment and orientation.”



Dr Mahlaule further surmises that trading more with one another, as an actual practice, usually contributes to improved levels of economic growth and political stability. Interestingly, several studies refer to the high levels of intra-trade in the European Union and Asia, amongst others; but the question that remains unanswered is why Africa, with all its natural resources, continues to lag behind.



In endeavouring to respond to this question, Dr Mahlaule embarked on an academic quest as a means for further investigation throughhis doctoral study with The DaVinci Institute.His thesis, thus, entitled: Intra-Africa Trade Integration and Continental Economic Prosperity,was aimed at identifying that which is needed to be done for Africa to realise its full potential. The current low levels of an estimated 12% to 18% intra-trade in the African continent, as Dr Mahlaule points, require concerted efforts to improve financial outcomes to attain levels on par or even above those of its counterparts, such as the European Union (EU) and Asia, that are in excess of 60%.


Which is why this study aims to identify the constraints that contribute towards the current sub-optimal intra-Africa trade activities and the recommended solutions in seeking to address these issues.


The key findings indicate that due consideration should be given to the fact that for the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement to be scalable towards the realisation of the intended outcomes, the adoption and customisation of identified catalytic digital solutions will play a central role in enabling the process. The findings further point to a conceptual framework for a continental social compact where all key stake holders put their trust deficit pre-occupations aside and work collaboratively. Moreover, the study’s recommendations are that in achieving the lofty ambitions of growing the economy of the continent, the key stakeholders comprising business, government, academia, social partners and labour should be willing to embrace the digital era; which, in this context, is underpinned by the Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, such as blockchain, as a platform to enable the chosen e-commerce-based solutions.


Dr Mahlaule sees his academic journey as a quest of “[c]ommitment to always finish what one starts irrespective of the circumstance, [of] interest in complex phenomenon underpinned by the love for knowledge acquisition, and curiosity for exploring/finding solutions for Africa by Africans themselves, instead of relying on dominant global narratives.”


According to Dr Mahlaule, this academic path has been characterised by both challenges and opportunities simultaneously. Challenges include the opportunity cost for family, friends, and business, all due to prolonged hours of research and writing. On the other hand, opportunities, such as exploration and in-depth knowledge acquisition, accompany one throughout the broader discourse. Despite being a relatively independent journey, “it would not have been attainable without the constant support of The DaVinci Institute’s team.”


In addition, as he notes: “Since embarking on the research work, my approach to life, in general, is one of zero tolerance for speculative narratives. Instead, I adhere to standardized primary sources and factual reasoning at all times, with a heightened intrinsic instinct for innovation and creativity. This has led to improved critical analysis and intense knowledge in relation to what needs to be done to enhance intra-Africa trade.”


Therefore, as further asserted by Dr Mahlaule, his thesis stands as a robust foundation, providing a solid platform “for another chapter in the ongoing intra-trade implementation processes characterized by practical engagements and value-add through continuous research, writing books, journals, articles, conference platforms, speaking engagements, as well as participating in structures that seek to create African solutions and improve its position in the geo-economic and political disposition. Driven by the goal of being among the thought leaders and stakeholders who will continue to co-create and implement strategies toward the elevation of the African continent beyond its many years of stagnation, despite all interventions attempted since the formation of the OAU 59 years ago.”


Ever wise through reflection and experience, as a seasoned sage, when imparting guidance to students venturing upon this odyssey, the words of wisdom unfurl as follows: “The journey can keep one very busy to the point of isolation and loneliness if not well managed. It is important to be organized, set goals, and strike a good balance between business, professional, family, and social life. Consider joining an academic community to benefit from others' lived experiences, maintain self-motivation, and avoid common setbacks such as procrastination.”

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