21 February 2016

Africa: Egypt Business Forum Promotes Key African Ties

Photo: Boakai M. Fofana/AllAfrica
A cross section of African leaders at the 'Business for Africa' conference in Egypt

Sharm el-Sheikh — Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el Sisi is calling on African leaders to invest in education so that the continent's peoples can acquire the skills to contribute to the region's economic growth.

"Africa needs to concentrate on transforming societies .. using innovation and research as a basis for future success," he said . The Egyptian leader was speaking at the opening of an investment conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, the historic Egyptian tourist hub in the south of the Sinai Peninsula .

The two-day gathering brings hundreds of business leaders together with government officials and heads of international organizations to discuss trade and investment as engines of progress.

Several African heads of state participated, including Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon's Ali Bongo and Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, whose global travels are limited by sanctions resulting from an International Criminal Court indictment but who is able to travel widely in Africa.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, in a presentation to the conference, said ""Today, in our globalised world no country can achieve development in isolation".

Sisi told delegates that Egypt wants to work with other African countries to help develop institutional and human capacity, with a particular focus on the needs of young people."Crossing into the future requires taking into account the advancement of technology and paving the way for generations that have the capability to face current challenges" he said. Young people are the focus of economic and legislative reforms that will accelerate investment, he said.

Organizers say the forum intends to strengthen intra-African business ties by reflecting on the "African opportunity," which will encourage policy makers to take steps that will make it easier for investors to access markets. The Egyptian president said his country's investment on the continent currently exceeds U.S. $8 billion, while the volume of its African trade has increased by U.S. $5 billion over the past 5 years.

During a presidential roundtable discussion which followed the opening ceremony, Bongo urged Africans to recount their own narrative, saying that although they have worked hard to attract investment to the continent, "it has not been recognized enough". He said the continent's progress "didn't just happen overnight" but comes through the hard work of Africans themselves. Bongo said the future can be a "great one" if the continent's leaders decide to work together. "And If others want to invest, it will have to be with Africans."

While the focus on manufacturing and infrastructure is paramount, Bongo said, equally important is for leaders to have a shared vision. "We have to lead", he said adding that opportunities must be given to African businessess, along with encouragement to invest in other African countries.

Equatorial Guinea's Nguema spoke of the need for African integration, which he called "the key point for our development,"

Nigeria's Mohammadu Buhari, who presides over the continent's largest economy, lamented the sharp fall in the price of oil on the global market, which he said has adversely affected his country's currency, the Naira. "But we are absolutely clear about the effect of devaluing our currency", he said , in an apparent counter to suggestions for him to do so. Unlike developed economies that compete in exportable goods, he said, Nigeria is an import- based economy and currency devaluation i s not an option.

President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan highlighted laws that his country has implemented to encourage investment. "We do have a high council on investment, presided over by the president" , he said. He also said his country has taken steps to improve access to financing in order to help reduce poverty. "We have institutions particularly working on financing for young people in different sectors, as well as women", he said.

Top African economic leaders participating in the forum include Carlos Lopes, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa and Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank.

In a welcome development for Egypt, the forum host, Adesina announced Saturday that the bank will provide US $1.5 billion towards the country's new administrative capital, planned to be built east of the ancient, congested sprawl of Cairo, whose population of $18 million is projected to double within four decades.

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