Africa is open for business: The African Development Bank calls on African private sector

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Africa’s private sector will continue to lead the continent towards economic transformation, African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina said Monday at the launch of the fourth Africa CEO Forum in Abidjan. 

Addressing some 500 CEOs from 43 African countries and 20 more worldwide, he said, “The ‘Africa rising’ story remains strong. Yes, African economies face economic headwinds from the significant decline in the price of commodities ... but African economies remain resilient. While the global economy is projected ... to grow at 3% this year, Africa is projected to grow at 4.4% in 2016, and to accelerate ... to 5% in 2017.”

Welcoming the President and Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire and the Deputy President of Kenya, Adesina described Heads of Government as “the CEOs of their national corporations”. He set out a clear vision of the work that governments must do to allow the private sector to reach its maximum potential: ensuring macroeconomic stabilization and fiscal consolidation, broadening the tax base, and deepening domestic capital markets. In addition, he said, governments need to continue to address infrastructure deficits, break down barriers to regional integration, and fast-track key reforms. 

He described efforts to deepen financial integration and increase liquidity, citing an AfDB project to link four African stock exchanges, and a joint venture with Bloomberg to facilitate the issuance of sovereign and corporate bonds on African markets. He pointed to a growth in remittances and a rise in sovereign wealth funds in Africa, and said, “With all these resources, Africa can finance its own development, and doing so enables it to decide its own direction and pace of growth.

“The formula for the wealth of nations is clear,” he said. “Rich nations add value by transforming raw materials into finished goods, while poor nations merely export their raw natural commodities. Africa only accounts for 1.9% of global added value in manufacturing.”

He called on the private sector to lead in doubling efforts to transform African commodities locally, and in diversifying African economies, particularly into areas like services and tourism. The private sector accounts for 80% of total production, 90% of employment, and two-thirds of total investments. “In the face of global economic challenges, it is those African countries with diversified economies that are succeeding in weathering the economic storm. While the current situation is challenging, it also presents great opportunity, especially for resource-rich countries, to diversify their economies away from the export of raw commodities .... Now is the time, the time for Africa to move up the value chain,” he said.

Adesina concluded by setting out the vision of the African Development Bank going forward, enshrined in its ‘High 5’ priorities which focus and refresh its current 2013-2022 Ten Year Strategy. He set out the context and goals for each of the High 5s: ‘Light up and power Africa’; ‘Feed Africa’; ‘Industrialize Africa’; ‘Integrate Africa’; and ‘Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa’. “We will only succeed in realising the objectives of the High 5s if we work in public-private partnership,” said President Adesina. “Let us think big, act big and deliver big for Africa.”  

Amir Ben Yahmed, Vice-President of Paris-based Groupe Jeune Afrique and the Founder and President of the Africa CEO Forum, had earlier introduced the theme of the conference – ‘New reality, new priorities’ – in the context of Africa adjusting to falling commodity prices and creating new opportunities out of economic diversification.

Concluding the opening ceremony, Alassane Ouattara, President of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, also stressed Africa’s resilience, and its need to add economic value. “It is you – it is the private sector – which will do the most to create jobs for the young people of this continent,” he said, pointing to a ‘win/win partnership’ if the public and private sectors work together. He called on the private sector to step up and fund Africa’s growth, and to make concrete proposals within the Africa CEO Forum.