Africa Rising narrative 'still holds true'

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A logo of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2013 is pictured at the Swiss resort of Davos in January 2013.

The World Economic Forum’s annual summit on the global agenda running in Abu Dhabi until Tuesday brings together more than 900 leading international experts in fields as diverse as nuclear security, climate change, religion and robotics.

Many of the global challenges being discussed at the meeting, dubbed the world’s biggest brainstorm, are already having a direct impact on Africa.

To find out more, we talked to Frannie Lautier, chief executive of Mboka Private Equity Fund, Tanzania, and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Africa, who is participating at the summit.

Q: Is the Africa Rising narrative still valid?

A: Africa has seen a number of challenges in the past year, including the collapse of commodity prices, hardening external conditions in finance and the ebola outbreak, but I believe that Africa Rising still holds true.

The region is home to seven of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world and has a number of strong fundamentals in its favour: sustained macroeconomic policies favouring growth, greater economic diversification, a huge wealth of human capital and increasing political stability.

This last point holds true both domestically – recent events in Burkina Faso and Nigeria have highlighted that people are no longer satisfied with poor governance – and internationally, with Africa increasingly being able to adopt a common position in critical areas such as the recent Sustainable Development Goals discussions.

This maturity has helped to ensure an African voice at the table in key international decision-making.

Q: Governance, migration, demographic explosion, food security, falling commodity prices, security problems: What is the greatest challenge facing Africa in 2015?

A: I think there are two. The first is maintaining stability.

Improvements in governance bring new pressures of their own, for example around elections, while there remain fragile states in Africa where institutions still badly need to be strengthened.

The other is migration. Most of this is happening peacefully: more Burundians have settled peacefully in Tanzania than Africans have left these shores for Europe, for example.

Nevertheless, it’s important that destination countries for migration of refugees are supported, and that economic migration is allowed to continue to support growth without becoming so excessive so as to damage social stability.

Q; What one event/action/decision over the past 12 months has most reaffirmed your belief in Africa’s potential?

A:The creation of a trade corridor from Cairo to Cape Town this year has been a real turning point in demonstrating a newfound political willingness for further integration.

Africa has seen a 60 percent increase in intra-regional trade between 2010 and 2015, but there are still many bottle-necks preventing the creation of regional supply chains.

One of these is visas: liberalising visa regimes has enabled countries in Ecowas [the Economic Community of West African States] to keep growing even through the ebola crisis, and other sub-regions need to build a similar resilience.

Q: What is the most exciting innovation you have seen come out of Africa in the past 12 months?

A: Two areas that are key to Africa’s growth are agriculture and mobile communications, so my choice is going to be a business that combines both.

Farm Capital Africa is a Kenya-based enterprise that provides essential financing for smallholder farmers, helping agro-businesses grow and providing opportunities for foreign and domestic investors to share the risk and benefit from the upside of agricultural activity.

Foreign direct investment to Africa has declined slightly, but private equity is booming, with $4 billion raised in 2014 matched by a further $2 billion in January 2015 alone.

The combination of 600 million hectares of “farmable” land in Africa powered by mobile money is an extremely exciting prospect. Innovations that leverage these advantages have potential to scale.

Q: If you could make one thing happen in the next 12 months, what would it be?

A: I want to see a carbon-neutral industrialisation strategy for the region.

Africa’s cities are the only ones in the world that have grown without industrialisation.

Investment is badly needed to drive growth and create jobs for our young population, but this cannot come at the expense of the environment.

Rather, by focusing on job creation and sustainability we can create modern economies and cities capable of competing in the global marketplace of the 21st century.
– African News Agency (ANA)