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AfDB debates issues thwarting private sector development

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Some of Africa’s leading business people say Africa should put more effort into building up infrastructure and agriculture; ensuring people have access to finance; guaranteeing women’s education; and creating a greater role for private equity and venture capital to ensure the continent’s economic development. Aliko Dangote, Verone Mankou, Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, Ismail Douiri and Ziad Oueslati joined about 150 others as panelists at the African Development Bank (AfDB)’s Board of Directors Retreat in Tunis on 20 February, 2014 to study how the private sector can help to increase the speed and breadth of African development. 

In his opening address to the meeting, AfDB President Donald Kaberuka said he was glad that some of “Africa’s key private sector actors are involved in this year’s retreat for us to better listen and learn.  He added: “The private sector is at the heart of the Bank’s strategy and is the sector in which we have hugely invested.”

The AfDB chose to look at the private sector during this year’s Board Retreat because it sees that Africa's development challenges cannot be handled by governments alone and that without the private sector Africa cannot generate enough jobs for its growing population. Some of the major constraints facing the private sector include limited access to finance, inconsistent legislation, financial policies and mechanisms, visa issues and trade policies, as well as competition by foreign companies. 

Panelists shared their views with the Board of Directors regarding the difficulties in growing a business from the concept stage to operations, skills shortages and mismatches, and the challenges African companies face when becoming multinational. They also discussed the changing role between governments and the private sector, the high cost of infrastructure deficiency, project development and bankability, access to and cost of financing, and the challenges facing women in business.

Dangote said there is nowhere better in the world to invest other than Africa: “The African Development Bank should understand the need for stronger partnering with the private sector to develop the continent.” He also said political stability is important for the private sector.

“Despite Africa’s robust growth, the phenomenon of youth unemployment is emerging to be a principal challenge,” said Shehu Yahaya, Dean of the AfDB Board of Directors. “Youth constitutes more than 60% of Africa’s total population today and makes up 45% of the total labour force, yet youth unemployment in Sub-Saharan African is estimated to be higher than 20%,” Yahaya said.

Mankou, a young African who was first to create a smartphone in Africa, discussed the need for access to finance: “Youth represents the strength of the continent,” he said, adding that “Currently we have access to technology and so Africa can be the leader in producing tablets. We only need finance.”

Mashile-Nkosi stressed the need to ensure equal opportunities for women in business by promoting policies and strategies to encourage their entrepreneurship and by eliminating barriers to this, as well as special financing programs for women.

Dangote is the chairman and CEO Dangote Group. Mankou is Chairman and CEO of VMK. Mashile-Nkosi the Executive Chair of Kalagadi Manganese. Douiri is Co-CEO of Attijariwafa Bank. Oueslati is Managing Director and Co-founding Partner of TunInvest – AfricInvest.

This year’s Board of Directors Retreat is taking place from 20 to 21 February.

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