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Africa does not have to ask for a seat at the table, Kagame tells business leaders

President Paul Kagame on Thursday, May 16, issued a rallying call to African business and political leaders to work closely, together, noting that the more the continent is united, the more productive its engagement with partners will become.

The Head of State was speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2024 Africa CEO forum, where he joined more than 2,000 delegates including visiting Heads of State, leaders of international institutions, captains of industry, and investors for the two-day forum underway in Kigali.

“The more united Africa is, the more productive our engagement with partners will become. Integration, for Africa’s business community, is an opportunity to grow our markets, and become more competitive. Africa does not have to ask for a seat at the table,” Kagame said.

 

Over 2000 delegates including visiting Heads of State, leaders of international institutions, captains of industry, and investors are attending the two-day forum in Kigali. Photo by Dan Gatsinzi
Over 2000 delegates including visiting Heads of State, leaders of international institutions, captains of industry, and investors are attending the two-day forum in Kigali. Photo by Dan Gatsinzi

 

The private sector in Africa and the world at large plays a pivotal role in the trajectory of development, according to President Kagame.

“Intersecting crises from the pandemic all the way to climate change have taught us many important lessons. Among them is the need for the public and private sectors to work closely together.”

Reacting to the forum’s theme; At the table or on the menu? A critical moment to shape a new future for Africa, Kagame maintained that the urgency to stop doing business as usual is not new.

He said; “Over the years what has become clearer is that our common challenges can be solved if we work together.”

President Paul Kagame addresses delegates  at the opening ceremony of the 2024 Africa CEO Forum in Kigali on Thursday, May 16. Photo by Dan Gatsinzi
President Paul Kagame addresses delegates at the opening ceremony of the 2024 Africa CEO Forum in Kigali on Thursday, May 16. Photo by Dan Gatsinzi

A united Africa

For Africa, Kagame challenged, it is equally important to build the capacity that responds swiftly and efficiently to any challenge and bounce back.

“For example, that is why we established the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The rationale is that we have the resources. But we need to be able to share them amongst ourselves. Here I also want to add that the more united Africa is the more productive our engagement with partners will become.”

Integration for Africa’s business community, Kagame said, is an opportunity to grow the continent’s markets and become more competitive. For instance, Kagame said, almost 20 percent of the world is African, a figure that is expected to grow to 25 percent by 2050.

“Soon enough the only middle class in the world that will still be growing is Africans. As this century progresses, Africa will increasingly be one of the world’s economic engines. But to become fully prosperous, we have to upgrade our mindsets. And aim for quality.”

“This will take a lot of time and effort. But Africa can do it. In everything we do, good governance and politics play an important role.”

Kagame also warned that having the solutions is not enough.

He said: “The willingness to find a middle ground and not let unnecessary levels of bureaucracy get in the way can make things work better and faster.”

“We also need to challenge the status quo across all areas. Whether in business, politics, or civil society. Anything that can be done anywhere in this world can also be done in Africa, and why don’t we just do that?”

At the opening ceremony, President Kagame commended Amir Ben Yahmed, chief executive at Jeune Afrique Group, the organiser of the Africa CEO forum. He also commended Makthar Diop, the Managing Director of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the co-organiser of the event. For Amir, Africa’s private sector is primarily faced with three major issues including the lack of unity, attractiveness, and access to finance.

A panel discussion during the opening session of the forum in Kigali.
A panel discussion during the opening session of the forum in Kigali.

“The theme of this year was borne from these three issues; At the table or on the menu? We need transformative agendas. The leadership agenda in particular.”

He shared similar sentiments with Diop, who pointed out that the continent’s private sector potential lies in the realisation of initiatives like the AfCFTA.

“We need to do a couple of things right to be able to maximize the Africa Trade Free Area. First is digitalization, and I want to emphasize that data is a new gold. We also need to reform and invest in our education systems by sharing equal opportunities between men and women.”

Diop challenged business leaders to invest in the continent’s startups, citing that IFC, “is interested in investing in tech-oriented startups with societal solutions.”

“Equally important is facilitating the free movement of people; you may also call it the free movement of talent. In particular, I want to appreciate President Paul Kagame and his government’s visa policy.”

“Ten years ago, we had a slogan that ‘Africa can’. Today, we need to be having conversations about how Africa is creating jobs for the youth, nurturing a healthier population, and ensuring that women have equal rights.”

Kigali is hosting the Africa CEO forum for the second time and, according to Francis Gatare, the Rwanda Development Board (RD) chief executive, the country is ready to host “more of them”.

The New Times