Tunisian businesswoman Ouided Bouchamaoui makes a bold case for African cooperation
“It is not aid that will help Africa to develop.” Ouided Bouchamaoui, former President of the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), made a spirited call for African cooperation in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, on Monday, January 22, 2018.
Invited to speak as part of the African Development Bank’s Eminent Speakers Lecture Series, Ouided Bouchamaoui, whose group won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 along with three other Tunisian organisations, gave an assessment of the far-from-rosy state of cooperation between African countries, calling for large-scale mobilisation to reverse the current trend.
Before an audience composed mainly of students, the Chief Economist of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Célestin Monga, applauded Bouachamaoui’s speech, recalling her organisation’s unparalleled contribution to the peaceful political transition in Tunisia.
“Due to a scheduling conflict, President Adesina could not be here today, but he has asked me to welcome you with friendship and admiration. It is an honour for us at the African Development Bank to listen to you as part of our Eminent Speakers programme,” announced Monga, the Bank’s Vice-President for Economic Governance and Knowledge Management.
“You are a formidable woman, who, like your three sisters, have inherited your father’s head for business,” Monga continued. “You have been able to combine success in business with a concern for the average person. This is unusual in the world of business.”
According to Ouided Bouchamaoui, who was invited by the AfDB to speak in Africa for the first time since receiving the Nobel Prize on behalf of UTICA, the continent has everything to gain by increasing cooperation between its nations.
“Trade between African countries is approximately 10%, compared with 50% within Europe, for example. This is still a relatively low rate,” concluded UTICA’s former President at the seminar titled “African Cooperation: Dream or Reality?”
For the Nobel Peace Prize Co-Laureate, young people are a huge asset that Africa could tap into to increase cooperation between the continent’s states.
“Africa bucks current demographic trends because 70% of its total population is composed of young people below the age of 25 years. By 2025, this population is expected to soar to 2.5 billion inhabitants, of which half will be less than 25 years old. All this speaks in favour of cooperation, which is still largely untapped and which requires the preparation of a favourable playing field,” said the speaker voted Best Business Woman of the Arab World in 2013.
In addition to economic factors, the African cooperation Bouchamaoui proposes is supported by university exchanges, professional training, technology and scientific research.
“We need to tap into the creative energy of the youth to pilot the projects of the future. First, we must actively train large numbers of young people and invest in the skills of the future. In the spirit of mobility, I propose an Erasmus programme in Africa, forming a network of the best universities and schools in each African country that wishes to be a part of it,” she said.
“This initiative will also include master’s programmes and doctorates as well as bachelor’s degrees and sabbaticals. They create opportunities for training and internships and offer motivation to young people, especially in specialist areas that are underdeveloped or undeveloped in their countries.”
Another feature of the new African cooperation advocated by Ouided Bouchamaoui is digital technology, which, she says, can be a powerful tool to incorporate initiatives, join forces and build innovative educational bridges for African students.
“Introducing a digital dimension to key public policies can speed up the creation of a digital Africa, especially for business and training centres. Success stories have multiplied in recent years and the potential cannot be disputed,” she observed.
“The major players are watching Africa closely, surprised at our inventiveness which cannot be ignored,” she said. “Africa’s delay must be seen as an opportunity to catch up quickly and benefit directly from the latest technologies.”
Five former heads of state, four Nobel Prizes
In 2017, internet coverage in Africa was estimated to be 20% and there were more than 350 million smartphones on the continent, according to a report by Deloitte.
As a sign of the vitality of digital innovation on the continent, local smartphone brands have begun to appear, especially with the launch by the 27-year-old Congolese entrepreneur, Vérone Mankou, of the first African tablet and smartphone, sold at €200 and €38, respectively. The American giant Google heralded the development by announcing a simplified version of its Android mobile operating system in 2014.
“The pace at which Africa creates infrastructure and trains teachers will always lag behind the growing numbers of new students. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a technological innovation which the continent must prepare to make use of to address the double challenge of soaring demand and unequal access to training,” continued Bouchamaoui.
Even if all the conditions are met, African cooperation will only succeed if Africans know each other better, she said.
“Everyone is watching Africa, but I am not yet certain that Africa is watching itself as it should. We do not look at each other enough, and perhaps we do not know each other well enough.
“There is considerable work to be done. Let us work together to make African cooperation a reality,” she urged.
The preliminary proposals by the Tunisian businesswoman were warmly welcomed by the audience, who reacted immediately with comments and questions that she addressed in turn.
Ouided Bouchamaoui was made a Grand Officer of the Order of the Republic of Tunisia in 2015 by President Beji Caid Essebsi and received the Order of the Polar Star the same year from King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden, as well as the Legion of Honour in 2016 from the former French President François Hollande, and is the first person to take part in the African Development Bank's Eminent Speaker Series in 2018.
Since it was launched in 2006 the Bank’s Eminent Speaker Series has welcomed prominent figures such as the former Presidents Festus Mogae (Botswana), John Kufuor (Ghana), Abdou Diouf (Senegal), Benjamin Mkapa (Tanzania) and Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), as well as Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Prize in Economics Laureate), Muhammad Yunus and Wangari Maathai (Nobel Peace Prize Laureates), and Wole Soyinka (Nobel Prize in Literature Laureate).
Views from the audience
“I followed the conference with immense interest. I’m particularly pleased that the speaker addressed important challenges for Africa such as regional integration and the place of young people and women. I share the arguments she made, especially when she said that Africa can only progress through integration. I also agree with her that Africa must take charge of its destiny rather than let it be shaped by others. I leave here entirely satisfied with the session, and am eager to come back and hear the next speaker in the series.”
– Charles Emmanuel Kouadio Konan, third year, Political Science, Abidjan University Institute
“This is the very first time that I have had the chance to participate in a conference addressed by a Noble Prize Laureate. It is wonderful that we can listen to this woman, whose words will inspire and guide us. I was particularly happy to hear her say that Africa’s future depends on its youth. As a woman, I was also very receptive to her call. What we have heard will remain a source of inspiration. I would like to thank the African Development Bank.”
– Sophie Ange Pascale Alle, third year, Bachelor in Communication and Marketing, Atlantic International Business School
“I particularly appreciated the emphasis in her speech on the place of digital technology in Africa. When she said there would be no cooperation or exchange between African countries without digital technology, I agree 100%. I also agree with her arguments on the important place of young people and women, but I think that nothing can be done without political will. At the moment I am not sure we have it.”
– Adje Wilfred Wilson, third year, Professional Diploma, Atlantic International Business School
“The theme of the conference was close to my heart. It was important for me to be there. I came to listen, understand and analyse the speaker’s arguments. Ultimately I was not let down. I leave satisfied and ready to seize the opportunity to return to attend the next conference organised as part of your Eminent Speakers series. I urge our leaders to hear what was said today about African cooperation."
– Sagui Ismaïl Camara, third-year Law student, Atlantic International Business School
“Many of us attended because the conference theme is current, but also because the speaker is a prestigious woman who addressed real development challenges for the continent. I am happy to have had the chance to be in contact with a renowned woman. Personally, she boosted my self-confidence and persuaded me to keep advancing. I sympathise with her arguments on the mass training of young Africans, digital development, dividends and good governance. All this leads me to consider returning here as soon as I have the chance.”
– Linda Ekollokrystel, Master’s student in Human Resources Management, Côte d’Ivoire Management School
“I came to this conference to hear a prominent woman, a woman whose path has impressed me. Her presentation gave me confidence. She convinced me that I should keep fighting. I would like to thank the African Development Bank for the invitation. I hope we will be invited to the next Eminent Speakers series lecture.”
– Ines Oracy Kousso Adon, Master’s student in Financial Engineering, Côte d’Ivoire Management School