KIGALI – The 7th edition of the Africa CEO Forum has officially opened in Kigali Rwanda with business leaders and trade experts calling for more reforms to make the continent more attractive to investments.
The forum, which is arguably the continent’s largest international meeting of Africa’s private sector, has brought together more than 1,800 CEOs from top companies, international investors, experts and high-level policy makers from the continent and beyond.
Also in attendance are presidents of Rwanda (the host), Democratic republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Togo, among other delegates.
The two-day event is organized by Jeune Afrique Media Group and Rainbow Unlimited and is “themed around using regional integration to drive private sector growth”.
The forum is, according to experts, an opportunity for Africa to mainly focus on the implementation of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) a powerful driver for private sector growth and the emergence of new African champions.
It is also another opportunity for the experts to discuss on how to mobilise the private sector around cross-border infrastructure and logistical projects, what insights can be drawn from the East African Community.
The bloc is considered the most successful regional model – given the tense new political waters, and what must a united Africa do to better protect its interests and industries among other topics.
It also comes at a time when intra-continental trade remains too weak and seeks to have Africa’s most influential business leaders raise their voices on changing status quo.
But also, it is reinforcement to the fact that the continent is expected to be a home to several of the world’s fastest-growing economies in 2019 at least according the IMF.
More than $1 billion of projects is expected to attract finance through public-private deal and investors deal room during this summit.
It is also expected that this particular event strives to encourage participants to implement action plans that foster the transformation of the continent’s major companies.
Driving Africa towards economic success
Meanwhile, in his opening remarks, President Kagame called the forum is a timely platform to discuss mechanisms on how to make the most from the recently signed ACFT treaty.
He urged participants to take the same spirit in driving the continent towards economic success.
“Open responsiveness and accountable governments are critical in driving the continent’s economic integration agenda, therefore the private sector should notice what needs to be changed share it with those in the public to able to move forward, President Kagame said.
He added that the implementation of the recently signed treaty especially at national level will require constant dialogue and responsibility from both the public and the private sector.
We don’t have any time to waste to do what is necessary; he said adding that the continent’s responsibility is to ensure that deeper integration translates into prosperity for all Africans.
“Overall what we need is more business activities that will emerge into global African firms that champion the continent’s economic integration.”
According to Amir Ben Yahmed, the president Africa CEO forum, economic integration is not an opportunity but a necessity thus building Africa integration can’t happen without the private sector.
He added that putting the leaders at the forefront of economic integration is what the CEO forum is all about and what the Africa should be doing to achieve economic excellence.
He also introduce the forum’s new project “the African CEO network”
Meanwhile, experts believe that such initiatives are very critical and a litmus test for the recently signed CFTA which strives to be a powerful tool to foster growth employment and industrialization,” he said adding that it is very paramount to allow companies to benefit from economies of scale and new geographical expansion opportunities
Role of private sector
Philippe Houerou the chief executive officer, IFC, said that the private sector has a role to play in providing governments with ingredients needed to make more reforms.
“Regional integration holds great promises, therefore increasing intra African trade while eliminating non-tariff barriers is very critical for Africa’s economic success.”
He added that though 44 percent of all Africa’s exports is still in raw material form there is great need for the intra Africa trade improve in terms of productivity.
“Therefore, countries will have to do the reforms to create more opportunities and governments must do what they can in providing the private sector business environment,” he said adding governments must work hard to reduce red tape and build infrastructure to increase productivity.
Africa needs 1.7 million new jobs every month. Therefore, the only way to achieve this is to have a thriving private sector.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian president Sahle–Work Zewde encouraged the private sector to improve productivity and performance and focus on technological innovation.
“We need the private sector to come up with proposals, give us advice and make suggestions to the public sector so that together we can achieve the goals we have set for ourselves,” she noted emphasising that it is not impossible for Africa to achieve transformation and economic excellence.
Last year, Africa achieved yet another milestone when member states signed the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement.
This important treaty is expected to significantly drive up intra-Africa trade by about 52 per cent once fully ratified.
It is also expected to help fast truck growth and help create the highly needed employment opportunities for jobless Africans.
This is important because presently, intra-African trade stands at about 16 per cent.
Recently, trade experts expressed optimism that the agreement could be in force soon and called for preparatory measures for its implementation.
However, some experts urge that with Africa struggling to return to sustained growth, and foreign direct investment flagging, the ideal of a common market offers the private sector a unique opportunity.
Indeed, businesses must now weigh in on the on-going discussions in order to determine the real priorities for economic integration and achieve much-needed changes.
The IMF projects Africa to be home to several of the world’s fastest-growing economies this year thanks to the steady rebound of commodity prices, an improvement in the global economy and improved capital market accessibility.
By Peterson Tumwebaze