By Ajong Mbapndah L
In the shrewd businessman that President elect Donald Trump is, the economic potentials and realities of good deals could be a silver lining for U. S Africa relations says Dr Mima S. Nedelcovych President and CEO of the Washington, DC based Initiative for Global Development-IGD.
With some of the world’s fastest growing economies, the African continent is an attractive investment destination and a Trump Administration may take a private sector led development approach and less aid, says Dr Mima who believes that the pick for Secretary of State may offer more clarity on the direction of US-Africa policy.
“Trump’s “America First” mantra is a wakeup call for African government leaders to negotiate better trade deals and focus on improving business environments for the private sector and growing their middle classes to bring greater economic prosperity in Africa,” Dr Mima said.
Based on recommendations from leading African business leaders from the IGD Frontier network, Mima says the Trump Administration and new Congress will be presented with a set of strategic policy recommendations in late January 2017. Expanding access to power, boosting trade and investment and transforming the agriculture sector are some of the key sectors that could shape US-Africa policy per the recommendations, said Dr Mima.
In a bid to change the narrative on doing business in Africa, Mima says the IGD is launching the Africa Rising Campaign to encourage greater trade and investment in the continent. According to Mima, the campaign will help to amplify the voice of Africa’s private sector leaders and use multimedia storytelling to highlight business and investment opportunities.
We start with the outcome of the last IGD Frontier 100 Forum in Washington, DC, how did the Forum go and what was the outcome?
The Frontier 100 Forum is an invitation-only biannual event that convenes the IGD Frontier Leader Network of CEOs and senior executives of African, U.S., European and South Asian companies operating in Africa.
More than 125 African and global corporate leaders and government officials gathered for the exclusive gathering in Washington on Oct. 5 and 6 to offer insight into and put forth action-oriented strategies on the forum theme, “Unleashing an Enabling Environment for Africa’s Private Sector to Achieve Inclusive Growth”.
For our Fall Frontier 100 Forum, IGD teamed up with the African Development Bank to mobilize Africa’s private sector in creating an enabling business environment to rally global support and action on achieving the AfDB’s bold agenda for Africa’s sustainable transformation called the “High 5s”.
We held engaging sessions with both U.S. and African business leaders and government officials, and representatives of the African Development Bank on the “High 5s”, including Light up and power Africa; Feed Africa; Integrate Africa; Industrialize Africa; and Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa.
The Bank’s ‘High Fives’ offers the private sector in Africa an action driven blueprint for promoting sustainable development and inclusive growth on the continent. We’ll continue to build on our partnership with the AfDB on achieving the High 5s in 2017.
Our forums also look at some of the top trends and issues in Africa. We organized a half-day session on “Chinese Investment in Africa” where we had a balanced discussion on China’s role and impact on Africa’s private sector. Indeed, it generated lots of perspectives on the issue.
The Fall Forum also unveiled the Africa Investment Rising campaign, an exciting, new IGD communications and advocacy campaign aimed at changing the narrative on doing business in Africa.
The IGD recently launched the Africa Rising initiative, what is this all about and why such an initiative at this time?
IGD is very excited about the launch of the Africa Investment Rising campaign. The campaign is aimed at changing the narrative on doing business in Africa to encourage greater trade and investment in Africa. The campaign seeks to amplify the voice of Africa’s private sector leaders and showcase business and investment opportunities through multimedia storytelling and strategic traditional and social media outreach. Given the continent’s growing middle class, the campaign will highlight the importance of “minding the middle” to strengthen local economies and build a strong middle class.
What does the IGD ultimately hope to see or achieve with such an initiative?
We hope to change the narrative on doing business in Africa by showing a thriving and dynamic African private sector. Africa’s private sector creates 80 percent of the jobs on the continent. The campaign will raise awareness about the role of African companies in fueling job creation and sustainable and inclusive growth in Africa.
When you look around and see the strong and growing Chinese economic presence in Africa, do you think U.S companies made a mistake in ignoring the African market, and what can they do to make up for lost time?
It’s never too late to invest in Africa. Indeed, we have a lot of work to do in helping more American companies realize the tremendous business and investment potential in Africa. That is why we launched the Africa Investment Rising campaign to showcase the business opportunities on the continent. The African Diaspora in the US can also play a critical role by investing in their home country markets and in encouraging US investors to look into the opportunities to invest in Africa.
As President Obama leaves Office, what kind of legacy will you say he is leaving behind for US-African relations, how much did he do to raise the bar?
I think President Obama has done a good job in promoting greater trade, investment, and development in Africa. He’s leaving behind a legacy of renewing the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and launching the Power Africa initiative to expand electricity across Africa and the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) to support emerging African leaders. The Obama Administration hosted the historic U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington and the US-Africa Business Summit in New York.
We are fortunate that U.S-Africa policy issues often garner support from elected officials from both Democrats and Republicans. We expect that will continue under the Trump Administration.
The Trump Administration will be coming in January and people are clueless on what to expect, you seem to be one of the people who sees a silver lining for US-Africa relations, can you tell us why you are optimistic?
Unfortunately, Africa was not a topic that came up during the presidential campaign. So, we’re not clear on the direction or foreign policy goals of a Trump Administration. What we do know is that President-elect Trump is a shrewd businessman who is looking for good deals. The silver lining is that the Administration will discover a rapidly changing Africa where there will be lots of good deals to be made.
With some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, the African continent is an attractive investment destination for emerging markets investors. African investments are offering impressive returns. In fact, African stock markets have grown steadily by 9 percent annually. A Trump Administration’s US-Africa policy will likely take a private sector led development approach, with a concerted focus on trade and investment and less on aid. We’ll have to see who he names as Secretary of State to determine the direction of US-Africa policy.
Trump’s “America First” mantra is a wake up call for African government leaders to negotiate better trade deals and focus on improving business environments for the private sector and growing their middle classes to bring greater economic prosperity in Africa. The American private sector will in turn find good opportunities in making deals with the rising African business class.
If that Administration came to you for advice on how to frame its African policy, what will your recommendations be to them?
IGD will be presenting the Trump Administration and new Congress in late-January with a set of strategic policy recommendations to influence and shape U.S.-Africa policy on three key issues: (1) expanding access to power, without which you cannot industrialize; (2) boosting trade and investment, without which you cannot have sustainable growth; and (3) transforming the agriculture sector in Africa from a vocation into a business. The recommendations will be from leading African business leaders from IGD’s Frontier Leader Network. The role of the private sector and the political will to enable Africa’s economies to grow sustainably will clearly be front and center. We’ll share the specific recommendations with your audience in January.
Can Dr Mima tell us a bit about his background and interest in Africa, what makes you passionate about that part of the world when to many Americans it barely exists?
Africa is very close to my heart. I was born in Serbia, but I spent my first 10 years in Ethiopia. I’ve focused on private sector development in Africa throughout my professional career. I served in the Administration of President George Bush from 1989 to 1993 as the U.S. Executive Director to the African Development Bank (AfDB). While serving at the AfDB, I was instrumental in developing the “private sector initiative” at the AfDB, the African Business Roundtable and the African Export-Import Bank.
In my independent consulting practice, I focused on trade facilitation, project development, project finance, and public-private partnerships in Africa. As Partner and Chairman of the Schaffer Group we developed some major agro-industrial projects on the continent over the last 20+ years.
For nearly three years, I have now served as the President and CEO of the Initiative for Global Development (IGD). IGD is a network of African and global business leaders who are committed to sustainable development and inclusive growth through business investment in Africa.
Africa has always had a vibrant private commercial sector, but what was lacking was African “born and bred” industries and service providers that add value to the abundant raw materials, and now labor pool on the continent. I have personally witnessed and participated in that transformation. Africa’s private sector leaders have certainly attained a high level of maturity and effectiveness. Now, the question is which political leaders will achieve those same heights.
What are some other African themed projects that the IGD plans to work on in the coming year?
The roll out of the Africa Investment Rising campaign will be our focus in 2017. We’re delighted that Pan African Visions is coming on board as a media partner and will be sharing the dynamic campaign content with your audience.
The Spring Frontier 100 Forum will be held on May 5 and 6 in Durban, South Africa. Every year, some 10-12 million young people are expected to enter the labor market in Africa. The forum will draw attention to how the private sector can be an agent of change in responding to Africa’s youth employment challenge and ensuring that young people are effectively equipped with the skills, knowledge and know-how for today’s jobs.