The 7th edition of the African CEO Forum kicked off yesterday in Kigali, Rwanda with an opening ceremony that featured a speech from Paul Kagame. The annual pan-African business conference, hosted by Jeune Afrique media and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank on 25th and 26th March 2019.

The theme for this year’s edition is Open Africa: from continental treaties to business realities and will explore the role of the private sector in translating the policies listed in the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement into business realities.

In his opening remarks as the president of the host country, Paul Kagame said that; “Nobody is questioning whether the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) is the right way to go or whether it is going to give us benefits. It is the only way to go if we want to maximize the opportunities for the benefit of our continent. But we have to make it work and we know how.” “It is our responsibility to ensure that deeper integration translates into prosperity and well-being for our people. As long as women face unnecessary obstacles in using their talents to the full we will continue to pay a heavy price in terms of lost wealth,” he added.

Currently, intra-African trade is weak at just 11 per cent of its capacity. However, African business leaders will, in partnership with African governments on the continent, address the issues that could hinder the AfCFTA from being fully implemented.

In his speech, Amir Ben Yahmed, the President of the AFRICA CEO FORUM encouraged governments to enable the private sector to play its role in creating the number of quality jobs needed for Africa’s growing population.

“The African private sector and the investor have to be brought on board. Development cannot happen without them, so ambition has to move towards them and the civil society,” he said.

The Forum is co-hosted by the IFC, a body tasked with creating investment opportunities for the private sector in developing countries. Its CEO, Philippe Le Houerou called for stakeholders to be practical; economic integration is the only solution to producing jobs for Africans in scale.

“Africa needs 1.7 million new jobs every month. The only way to do it is to develop a striving and competitive sector enabled by free trade and opportunities across the continent. We, therefore, need visionaries, new markets, and pragmatists,” Le Houerou said.

The first session of the Forum discussed how to make the single market work for African Businesses. Key business and political leaders talked about the common problems associated with intra-African trade. Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde, who is just one of the four African presidents scheduled to speak at the forum, emphasized the importance of peace and security in achieving intra-African trade. “As much as we concentrate on political issues, as a region, we all have the same bold ambition which is for our countries to make constant progress but it can’t be done without peace and security,” she said.

According to Carlos Lopes, Honorary Professor, University of Cape Town, it takes up to 700 hours to process trade documents in some African states. “Where is the urgency to reduce this?” he questioned, adding that; “The cost of transportation from one country to another country is really brutal.

“It takes much more to transport good from Rwanda to Mombasa than it costs from Mombasa to China. We have done very well as a continent and economic region in terms of the time it took to sign AfCFTA, compared to other regions in the world that took on average 10 years to concretize such trade treaties.”

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