The Africa CEO Forum held on the theme “African Champions: it’s transformation time”

Nana Akufo-Addo

The sixth edition of the Africa CEO Forum opened on Monday 26 March under the banner of “African champions: it’s transformation time”. 

This major meeting of Africa’s private sector, organised by Jeune Afrique Media Group and Rainbow Unlimited, brought together three African presidents, namely Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire and his counterparts Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe and Ghana’s Nana Akufo-Addo.

With around 1,600 high-level delegates from over 60 countries, the 2018 Africa CEO Forum strives to encourage participants to implement action plans that foster the transformation of the continent’s major companies.

In his opening speech, Amir Ben Yahmed, President and Founder of the Forum, indicated that this edition would place the accent on “transformation” because, in his opinion, emergence is not possible without undergoing a transformation, which is one of Africa’s biggest weaknesses. To remedy this, the forum is proposing change: that of the private sectors that have to invest more in the continent’s transformation process. “For this edition, we wanted to talk to you about change because, around us, the world is changing. And in our opinion African companies, African economies are not transforming enough. This is why we have made every effort to ensure that you leave this conference convinced, determined to make Africa’s much-needed change possible,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s Head of State, Emmerson Mnangagwa, outlined his plan for the country’s economic recovery after 17 years of isolation and absence from the international arena. He urged African investors to support each other “in order to avoid continually reaching out to the outside world”. According to him, the enemy of the African is the African himself and the refusal of one to see the other prosper. To eradicate poverty, President Emmerson Mnangagwa wants unity between African countries.

President Nana Akufo-Addo hailed this meeting of the private and public sectors and called for Africans to take charge of Africa. “Africa has enormous assets, numerous resources to exploit and develop. We need to enhance the image of our continent by working together with our own resources,” he said. Nana Akufo-Addo also invited Africans to unite, saying unity is key to the continent’s development.

President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire encouraged the private sector to improve productivity and performance and focus on technological innovation. “We need the private sector to come up with proposals, give us advice and make suggestions to the public sector so that together we can achieve the goals we have set for ourselves,” he said. He also emphasised that it is not impossible for Africa to achieve transformation and emergence. He insisted on “training young people by investing in education, infrastructure and the digital economy” and reassured investors about Côte d’Ivoire’s good economic health, at the same time inviting them to invest heavily.

Four main themes were developed during the two-day forum: the economy, agribusiness, technology and women in business.

Respect the rules! says President Akufo-Addo

The theme “Together, let’s build a sustainable future” is one that the President, Nana Akufo-Addo, and Paul Polman, CEO of the Unilever Group, adopted during an usual and unprecedented panel discussion.

President Nana Akufo-Addo said that everyone, both the private and public sectors, must respect the rules. “Respect the rules by refraining from tax evasion and tax havens. Insist on the value added and put in place an environment conducive to macroeconomic stability in our countries,” he suggested.

President Akufo-Addo believes that the private and public sectors must fight corruption, respect the law and practice fiscal discipline. “The partnerships we conclude must also lead to a change of attitude. We must unleash our potential. Africa has talent which we must harness so as to avoid the brain drain,” he said, adding that his greatest pride during his term would be to see all children in his country have access to education.

Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman, expressed the willingness of the private sector to support  governments in building a ‘sustainable future‘.

According to him, one of the conditions for this is, among others, the fight against poverty and hunger, stating that famine and hunger promote instability in countries because people eventually revolt and increasingly resort to terrorism to make themselves heard. This instability is therefore not conducive to business development which is essential for job creation for young people and the creation of wealth. “If you treat people well in the value chain, they will be indebted to you,” said Polman.

He said the private sector must follow governments’ lead by supporting their development efforts. “We must tackle challenges and work for Africa. We must start with the fight against corruption.”