• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Africa CEO Forum’s 11th summit to forge new economic paths

Marcelle Balt – ACF (1)

In this interview, Marcelle Balt, the Content and Program Director of Jeune Afrique Media Group, organisers of the Africa CEO Forum, looks ahead to this year’s annual CEO Forum and what participants should expect.

What inspired the selection of this year’s theme for the Africa CEO Forum, and how does it reflect the current economic and geopolitical landscape of Africa?

The economic and political atmosphere in Africa, and on a global level, has shifted dramatically over the last few years. We have had a good run for the last 25 years or so with favourable macro conditions marked by debt cancellation, easy money and high commodity prices. This environment has helped grow our economies and thousands of successful companies.
But today the landscape has shifted. We are in a time where uncertainty has become the new normal. Global forces are competing aggressively over capital, resources, and the industries of the future. The sudden advancement of AI is opening the door to a world of breakthroughs but also threatening to increase the digital divide between nations, companies and people. The climate challenge is growing and impacting everything from our daily lives to our economic plans. There is also a sense of renewed political and economic instability on the continent.

In this new setting, we want the 11th Africa CEO Forum Annual Summit to prompt us to recognise the severity of the situation and, most importantly, the urgent need for a change in direction.

We can all agree that we stand at a crossroads in our economic history, having to answer the question: will African nations unite and claim Africa’s place at the decision-making table or will the continent be on the menu of global powers in competition for capital, natural and human resources? That is where the theme of this year’s Summit comes from: At the Table or on the Menu: A Critical Moment to Shape a New Future for Africa.

How does this year’s theme aim to address the most pressing challenges faced by African leaders and business executives today?
We need to focus on creating an environment where leaders of the private sector are empowered to be the drivers of our continent’s growth.
But for this to happen, we need four transformative agendas as set out in our programme: Leadership, integration, digital, and a financial service agenda.

A leadership agenda. First, we have to admit that we are in a crisis of leadership and hold ourselves to the higher standards needed to get back on track. We are entering a new era of political and corporate leadership. For example, we will have 2 elections coming up in the next few months at the African Union and the Africa Development Bank. These two individuals who will be elected will have an incredible impact on Africa’s future voice on the global stage. Without a transformative leadership agenda, we will focus on improved governance and best-in-class public policies for the continent.

A digital agenda. How can Africa keep pace in the global AI race? How can we strengthen our tech ecosystems and infrastructure to position Africa as a global hub for innovation and talent? We need a paradigm shift to put AI, tech education and infrastructure at the heart of African policy-making.

An integration agenda. We will answer questions like: What must national leaders do to effectively establish The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as a robust common market? Can Pan-African business champions challenge trade obstacles through action and catalyse integration with cross-border projects? We are advocating for an urgent push to make seamless intra-African trade an operational reality 5 years after the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement entered into force.
A financing agenda. We focus on building a world-class African financial industry while seizing the new financing opportunities offered by a world in transition. We answer questions like how can creative financing instruments unlock funds without raising the debt burden? Will investors, both local and foreign, take on the necessary risk to fuel Africa’s growth?

How does the forum promote collaboration among Africa’s top economic players and what measurable effects has this collaboration had on enhancing regional cooperation?

One can rarely say of an event that it plays a significant and even crucial role in shaping Africa’s economic future and fostering leadership across the continent, but this is true of the Africa CEO Forum Annual Summit.

For more than a decade ACF has been the meeting place for top business leaders of the continent. We are proud to add that we are a convening of action-oriented discussions. We bring together African private and public sector leaders on topics that anticipate the future and give a bird’s eye view on a variety of sectors and topics, in doing so, we foster insights and collaborations that would not have happened in any other way.

We are the largest and most diverse gathering of African corporate excellence, North-South-East-West Africa, and we are well-known for catalysing dialogue and building partnerships among Africa’s leading economic figures across regions. Leaders from across the continent come to the ACF Annual Summit to forge lasting business relations, and the success of this speaks for itself: our participants come back year after year.

How does the AFRICA CEO FORUM measure the impact of its initiatives on economic growth and leadership development within Africa?

Africa has plenty of talent and captains of industry capable of driving economic development – and our job is to shine a light on the unrecognised African excellence out there to enable partnerships.

Indeed, it is hard to measure the number of partnerships that form thanks to the Summit, but we know many deals happen behind closed doors that have a lasting impact. Our online community comes alive during the Summit. Friendships form. Meetups during networking breaks abound. It is a lively and exciting atmosphere that is the highlight of many CEO’s annual calendars.
Furthermore, we measure the impact of the Summit by the feedback of our core community, which is ultimately the African CEO. Of our 2,000 participants, a good half are returnees regardless of where we hold the event.

This year we closed registration to the Summit ahead of the starting date. We are mindful to give our participants the best experience of a two-day event, without having to clamour for space. We have an exciting and diverse programme lined up that will give our 2024 ACF participants a well-rounded deep dive into the most pertinent topics that are critical to shaping a new future for Africa.

Can you outline the AFRICA CEO FORUM’s strategic vision for the next five years, especially in terms of economic development across the continent?

We will continue to be the enabler of dialogue between the private and public sectors as we have been for more than a decade. The Africa CEO Forum is proud to have played a crucial role in this evolution, convening CEOs and decision-makers, and serving as a platform for dialogue. It is important to remember that we are the Africa CEO Forum. We are not a summit for governments or development agencies – although both are very welcome and indeed crucial to the Forum’s success.

Today, as global dynamics shift, Africa’s ambitions for economic sovereignty and inclusive growth require the private sector to not just look to policymakers but to step up themselves. This was well-captured in last year’s theme, 300 to 3,000 (referring to African companies with billion-dollar revenue), in which we called for the need for African multinationals as drivers of African influence in the world.
This year, we are going further down that route, indicating that it’s not private vs public in Africa, but rather that there’s a need for collaboration – and a reckoning by all sides – that Africa is at risk of landing on the menu unless it pulls up a chair to the decision-making table.
So, we will no doubt continue advocating harder and louder in favour of an economically outspoken Africa.

How does the forum leverage international partnerships to enhance economic opportunities for Africa, and can you share a successful example of such a partnership?

We have a strong presence of international role players this year from both the private and public sectors that again look to the Africa CEO Forum Annual Summit for strategic partnerships. Many of these organisations choose the Summit as a platform for announcing alliances and deepening collaboration with their African counterparts.
An example of how this impacted our host country this year is the story of how fibre came to Kigali: A year after Vivendi Africa met with the Rwandan government at the Africa CEO Forum in Kigali in 2019, internet connectivity was established in the capital.
Another example: The deal that transformed iSON into the leading business process outsourcing service company in Africa, with more than 18,000 employees all over Africa was born at one of the Africa CEO Forum Annual Summits when the founder met with AfricInvest, a key investor.
A final example, the presidents of Ghana and Ivory Coast signed an agreement during the Summit of 2018 to work together on the harmonisation of cocoa prices.
These are just a few well-known examples, but many other transactions and agreements take place in the lead-up, during and after the Summit.

Are there any upcoming projects or initiatives that the forum is particularly excited about launching soon?
We have very exciting projects in the pipeline, some of we will announce in Kigali, including sectoral events and specific events for the public sector.