Monday 24th October saw leaders in business, policy and politics gather in London for the annual Financial Times Africa Summit to debate the theme “Africa in Motion”. The opening keynote address was given by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in perhaps a welcome distraction from the economic situation at home, given the World Bank’s downgrading of South Africa’s growth forecast for the remainder of the year. Despite this, the President showed a firm optimism on behalf of the African continent that was shared by the panellists and audience alike.
One of the recurring motifs of the summit was the need for greater integration between African nations to drive development across the continent, a refrain that is played frequently by multilateral institutions such as the African Development Bank (AfDB) and African Union (AU). South African President Ramaphosa placed this in stark context, illustrating how intra-Africa trade currently sits at just 15%, against 47% in the Americas and 67% in Europe. The soon to be implemented African Free Trade Treaty (AfCFTA) has the potential to be a complete gamechanger in this regard, raising intra-Africa trade closer to 40% and providing new opportunities for collaboration across the 54-country strong trading bloc.
Beyond the AfCTA, the Summit shone a spotlight on the scope for innovation in the finance sector. On a micro level we are seeing welcome initiatives such the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA), led by the AfDB and G7, transforming the African financial industry and helping African women achieve entrepreneurial freedom. Given that only 23% of women have access to credit in Africa, this represents a huge potential for growing economic activity for the continent.
Another key issue tackled during the Summit included the role of technology in accelerating African development, shedding light on entrepreneurial dynamism across the continent. Ghana’s Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia demonstrated that it was not just the private sector harnessing digital technology, by showcasing the innovations underway in his country that have not only made life more efficient for citizens but have also reduced corruption in the public sector through greater transparency. Ghana has boldly pledged to become paperless in the delivery of its public services by 2020, showing a leadership of the continent that is usually claimed by the likes of Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya.
The hope of a new generation
Africa has the youngest population in the world, with 60% of the continent aged under 25 and while this has yet to translate into political leadership across the board (African leaders are disproportionately older than the OECD median), Ethiopia’s young Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (age 43) has potentially ushered in a new era with his Nobel Peace Prize win. His efforts to broker peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea were singled out by South African President Ramaphosa in his speech as bold and courageous. But his win has not been without controversy; as The Economist puts it “the peace he forged with Eritrea is far from complete”.
We hope that Africa in Motion can refer not just to the theme of this summit, but to the continent’s journey towards peace, stability and democracy for its citizens.
Not for the first time, this elite gathering has hailed a moment of Africa rising. This optimism will only translate into tangible change for the many through the actions, efforts and innovations of African leaders – across politics, civil society and business. We at Aequitas share this vision of transforming lives, and support changemakers from all walks of life in this endeavour.