Photograph — Paul Garland

On Monday, June 5th, 2023, the highest of Africa’s leadership including presidents, heads of state, heads of government, top CEOs and leaders of multilateral corporations converged in Cote D’Ivoire for the annual summit of the African CEO Forum to deliberate on them how to deliver and accelerate the emergence the next generation of African champions, from 300 to 3,000.

Recent economic trends in less than half a decade, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, energy shortage, global warming, Russia-Ukraine war, and surging global inflation, have awakened the continent to the economic gaps that need redress. Thus, these occurrences in the global market have created unprecedented negative economic responses. Why should African leaders have to sit back and watch while foreign crises wreak havoc on their currencies and wider economies?

Africa has some of the world’s mineral deposits in high reserves. For instance, Copper and cobalt can be found in the Central, Southern, Northern and Eastern regions. Substantial deposits are recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Madagascar, Morocco, South Africa, Zambia, Uganda, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Globally, DRC is the top producer of cobalt, the fourth-biggest producer of copper and the second-largest producer of diamonds. As of 2021, the Central African country accounted for over 60 per cent of the world’s cobalt. But  Africa needs effective government and stakeholder collaborations to harness these potentials. 

For about a decade, the Africa CEO Forum has firmly championed the notion that the private sector should be the engine of African growth in the minds of policymakers. Some of the issues discussed on the first day of the event include food security, trade, public-private partnerships and youth engagements, AI technology and the scramble for Africa’s natural gas, etc. Below are some of the Key takeaways from the event: 

On private-public partnership for food sovereignty

Insight from the forum indicates that the Kingdom of Morocco and the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire are vying to play larger roles in global value chains. Morocco’s Head of Government Aziz Akhannouch signed a new Investment Charter in March 2023, while Côte d’Ivoire’s Prime Minister Patrick Achi recently engaged with the US and Chinese leaders as both seek to whip up post-COVID foreign investment.  Both governments want to build efficient partnerships with international communities and private sector players to enhance critical sectors of their economies such as agriculture and infrastructure.  

“In Cote D’Ivoire, food sovereignty is unique. Thus, the state makes the hydro agricultural dam available to the private sector. We understand that when basic infrastructure has not been made available in an economy, it becomes very difficult for the private sector to play their role,” said Patrick Achi, Prime Minister of Cote d’Ivoire. 

While African governments pull resources together to guarantee food security on the continent, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is one opportunity to be explored to the fullest.  Although opportunities abound, when it comes to AfTCTA, there is limited knowledge sharing in sub-Saharan Africa giving rise to the need for more access to information, especially in terms of manufacturing.

“There is a need for private and public investment for the trade of imported goods in the AfCFTA. There are huge opportunities for countries in Africa to trade on its free trade zones, ” said Aziz Akhannouch, Head of Government, the Kingdom of Morocco.

On financing small businesses and developing talents

In sub-Saharan African countries like Nigeria, small businesses or the informal sector stands as a key economic driver. They fall within that aspect of the economy that is largely not taxed or monitored by any form of government. They are the engine room of many developing economies across the globe. 

Poverty, poor education and unemployment are the main cause of the sprawling growth in the informal sector in most societies. Covering 65 per cent of economic activities in Nigeria, the sector accounts for nearly 90 per cent of new jobs, 80 per cent of all non-agricultural employment and about 60 per cent of urban jobs created. 

“It is important to finance the development of small businesses in Africa because millions of jobs would be created through this means. We need to gradually reduce non-tariff barriers between the economic zones on the continent,” Makhtar Diop, Managing Director, IFC. “The number of private-public partnerships in Africa is not sufficient. There is a need to strengthen and foster more of these partnerships for the development of the African continent. “

According to said Jeremy Awori, Group CEO, of Ecobank, African leaders need to invest in their people more. It starts with the sort of education it provides for them. Governments need to invest in young people, treat them like very valuable resources and create opportunities for them.

“The world has changed and we’ve got many young people who don’t want to do work the way that the last 20 years have been. They work in different ways and are driven by different things. So, I think we need to look at the environment in which they work and the opportunities in which they work. This is because they are driven by a sense of purpose to work for a much bigger goal than to make money, only,”said Jeremy Awori, Group CEO, Ecobank.

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