Business diplomacy and Africa’s development – Businessday NG


From May 16 to 17, over 2,000 of Africa’s business leaders, investors, policymakers, and political leaders, as well as their counterparts from around the world, met in Kigali, Rwanda, under the auspices of the Africa CEO Forum 2024 to discuss the continent’s development, opportunities, and challenges. The Africa CEO Forum is the largest international meeting of the African private sector and is typically two days of conferences, debates, panel discussions, and high-level meetings dedicated to highlighting the driving role of the private sector in the development of the continent. Rwanda is hosting it for the second time since its maiden edition, held in Geneva 10 years ago. Last year, it was held in Abidjan, and next year, it is going to be somewhere in North Africa. Nigeria has never hosted it, and that’s surprising. You can think of the Forum as our own equivalent of the World Economic Forum (WEF), which is held in Davos, Switzerland, every January. The 2024 CEO Forum in Kigali was the biggest since its inception, according to the Chief Executive of the Forum, Amir Ben Yahmed. The theme this year was “At the Table or on the Menu? A Critical Moment to Shape a New Future for Africa.” President Paul Kagame and a few African heads of state and government were there. In attendance were many notable Nigerian businesses and NGOs. Kagame gave a brief opening statement.

The phrase “At the Table or On the Menu’’ was popularised by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Munich Security Conference last November. Responding to the moderator’s question concerning tensions in US-China relations, Blinken said, “If you are not at the table in the international systems, you’re going to be on the menu. Blinken had also used the same phrase in 2022 to describe relations between the two superpowers. But he did not invent this coinage. As far back as 1993, this phrase was used in an article in an American Middle East Affairs journal, describing the situation in Lebanon at that time. At a time when our continent seems to be making little progress on the global stage, it was therefore apt that the Africa CEO Forum 2024 adopted this same phrase as its theme. It was also the central point of discussion among panel members on the opening day of the summit. The panellists were Group CEO of MTN, Ralph Mupita; Regional VP for Africa, IFC, Sergio Pimenta; Access Holdings Chairman, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede; Rwanda Minister of State in charge of Public Investments and Resource Mobilisation, Jeanine Munyeshuli; and President of the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, Sidi Ould Tah.

It was a very enriching and profound discussion on the experiences and future of our continent. Aig-Imoukhuede opened his contributions by acknowledging that the theme was quite poignant given that this year marks the 140th anniversary of the Berlin Conference. “At the Berlin Conference, Africa was at the table, but that’s where they had us for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” he said, eliciting applause and laughter. “But Africa has come a long way since then. Today, there are many tables across the world in the IMF/World Bank (finance), WHO (health), WTOO (trade), G20 (politics), etc., and it is important to note that Africans are CEOs of some international organisations in these areas,” he added. As much as Africans are now at the table, he wondered whether we were sitting on the right seats or low stools, eliciting another round of laughter and applause. The Access Holdings chairman elucidated further that Africans should create their own tables just like Asians have done. “Our big population, common markets, and youths should give us a table for the future’’ he said. He noted that Africans have made considerable progress in finance, noting that foreign banks that have divested from the continent have been replaced by African banks.

He illustrated: “If an African investor, for example, goes to the Eurobond market, he should be ready to be dictated to by the regulators and the operators in that market, and they necessarily don’t have your interest in mind. But if an African investor goes to an Afrobond market to raise capital, chances are that the market will be sympathetic to Africa’s needs and nuances, but the standards and regulations should not be lower than what you have in the Eurobond markets.” He called for partnerships between the public and private sectors on the continent and announced that Access Holdings and the Aig-Imoukhuede Foundation are launching a Super NGO that will provide funding and talent for transformational government initiatives that deliver much-needed value. The Aig-Imoukhuede Foundation and Access Bank Group have pledged $300 million over the next 20 years. Access Bank has committed $200 million, and the Aig-Inoukhuede Foundation has committed $100 million.

The African-led Super NGO will be established in partnership with academics, experts, and philanthropists across the globe who are committed to closing the gap between Africa and the rest of the world. The NGO will work with African governments to provide the funding, governance, and talent. He invited other businesses to join him in promoting the initiatives. The commitments, spread over 20 years, will fund African governments’ initiatives with proven potential to transform national economic performance.

Said Aig-Imoukhuede: “African leaders cannot sit back and watch the 4th Industrial Revolution transform the rest of the world while leaving Africa falling further behind. We have to create our own ‘table’ by using technology to unlock the power of our youth, giving Africa a greater voice in the world. It’s today’s leaders who will determine whether or not we grab this opportunity.” The Africa CEO Forum and similar platforms provide ample opportunity for African businesses in general and Nigeria’s companies in particular to deploy the art of business diplomacy to their advantage and to the benefit of the continent.

Business diplomacy, according to specialists in that area, is the capacity to build and maintain strong relationships with several domestic and international stakeholders to shape and influence the environment and eventually create a favourable business environment and exploit new opportunities. It is an important business tool in today’s globalised markets, and its goal is to create and manage efficient networks of information that allow the company to influence policy environments in their favour and predict future issues. This is why key African businesses and their partners have been the major sponsors of the CEO Forum, with the 2024 edition backed mainly by the MTN Group, IFC, Access Holdings, The Coronation Group, and the Aig-Imoukhuede Foundation.


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