By Jean d’Amour Mugabo
Continental dignitaries including four Heads of State have convened in Kigali at the Africa’s largest private sector meeting dubbed Africa CEO Forum (ACF).
Opening the two-day forum on Monday, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame urged the delegates to make the African single market work and to bear the responsibility to ensure that deeper integration translates into prosperity and well-being for Africa’s people.
At least 1500 delegates from across Africa and beyond are attending the seventh edition of ACF but held for its first time in the East and Central African region. It hosts the continent’s top CEOs, international investors, experts and high-level policy makers.
The visiting Heads of State in attendance are the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Felix Tshisekedi, Togo’s Faure Gnassingbé and the Ethiopia’s Sahle-Work Zewde. There is also the Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire, Amadou Gon Coulibaly and more dignitaries from 70 countries.
President Kagame said the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) that was signed by 44 countries in Kigali in March 2018 is on the cusp of coming into force.
“I understand that only one more ratification is needed. However, as we all know, this is where the hard work begins. This is the right time for private sector leaders to reflect on what needs to be changed and improved on their end as well. The implementation of the AfCFTA, especially at national level, will require constant dialogue and flexibility,” he said.
Kagame noted that the public and private sectors must work even more closely to provide the education and training that will equip Africa’s young workers with the skills to excel in manufacturing, services, and technology.
“AfCFTA does not solve problems until people make it work. We don’t expect to put a mechanism and expect it to work; it needs an effort that people will have to undertake to make it work,” he said. “Nobody is questioning whether CFTA is the right way to go or whether it is going to give us benefits. It is the only way to go if we want to maximize on the opportunities for the benefit of our continent. But we have to make it work and we know how.”
President Kagame, who is the immediate former leader of African Union, said that Africa has immense, unlimited opportunity and capacity, knowledge and expertise.
“These young Africans are doing wonderful things for other continents; we should be doing that for ourselves,” he urged.
The Chief Executive Officer of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Mr Phillipe Le Houérou urged African leaders to ease business among their countries. He questioned the fact that it takes longer and more expenses to ship goods from the port of Mombasa in Kenya to Rwanda than to China and the problem of goods spending days at the customs from one Africa’s country to another.
“Africa needs 1.7 million new jobs every month. The only way to do this is to develop a thriving private sector. We need visionaries who can imagine new markets, and pragmatists who can make these new markets a reality. We need to create markets we need to create new projects,” he noted. “
“Our main goal is for regional integration to move from being a possibility to being a reality. Africa is our number one priority.”
The founder and President of the Africa CEO Forum, Mr Amir Ben Yahmed, said the forum aims to unlocking Africa’s economic potential by championing private sector-led growth, leading discussions around innovative public policies and sustainable business.
“I encourage leaders and CEOs here to be true ambassadors of economic integration. This is also an opportunity for public and private sector to find a way to move forward together,” he said.
Africa CEO Forum is organised annually by Jeune Afrique Media Group and Rainbow Unlimited in collaboration with IFC, the lending arm of the Word Bank Group.