By Boris Esono Nwenfor
The African Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCFTA is crucial for “our economic growth and job creation” said Gwendoline Abunaw, Managing Director of Ecobank Cameroon.
The Managing Director of Ecobank Cameroon, ranked 4th out of the 16 banks in Cameroon was speaking during a webinar on June 3, 2021, organized by the Nkafu Policy Institute. Moderated by Dr Denis Foretia, Executive Chairman of the Nkafu Policy Institute, the session was under the theme “Africa’s Road to Recovery – A Conversation with Gwendoline Abunaw.”
With 20 years of experience, Gwendoline Abunaw, the first female Managing Director in the country has occupied C-suite roles since 2011, including Head of Corporate bank Cameroon including coverage of 6 other countries in Central Africa and Deputy Managing Director at Ecobank Cameroon.
“All I can say is that we survived. There was a fear that Africa will disappear in the way we were going to manage the pandemic. It was also because of the quick reaction in closing the borders and also the youthful population in most African countries,” said Gwendoline Abunaw, a board member at Ecobank Cameroon and Chad.
“A lot of work still needs to be done. We are in a stable but wait and see the situation as everyone is taking the baby steps into going back to normal.
There economic situation in most African countries is dire. The banking sector according to the Managing Director of Ecobank is still trying to get on its feet while the number of custom or tax collection has reduced due to the pandemic. It has also affected the rate at which investment is done in a particular country. “What we are seeing now is the inflows of support being given to the various governments in their fight against the pandemic.”
The IMF programme is important as it helps make sure that our countries can develop. We need more of that support and we are going to see more as the countries slowly come out of the pandemic.
According to many analysts, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected many Small businesses across the Africa continent. In Cameroon, some 90% of businesses in the country are SMEs. With the problems that this sector is currently facing, the pandemic has made things worse for small-scale businesses.
The pandemic has not been all gloomy according to the Managing Director of Ecobank. “Because of the pandemic, creative space has been created for SMEs. Government has provided tax reliefs to some of the like in the transport sector and those involved in tourism (to help the SMEs cope with the challenges involved).”
Many of these SMEs have had to come up with innovative ways to reach their customers than they were doing before the pandemic hit. Small-scaled businesses have incorporated technology into their businesses. Social media platforms have been a major boost to these companies.
“Ecobank has also stepped in to assist these SMEs with the launch of the Elevate Programme and also provided the SMEs digital software to enable them better manage their businesses. All these efforts have enabled SMEs to thrive, despite the partial lockdowns that were instituted in some areas of the country,” said Gwendoline Abunaw, chairperson of the boards for both Pan African savings and loans (microfinance) and Ecobank Development Corporation (EDC), an investment bank.
Responding to the question on the challenges and hurdles of the AfCFTA, Gwendoline Abunaw said there is a need to finalize and put the framework in place and the creation of infrastructure to assist. “Leaders have t make it a domestic policy. We have to be open to industrialization and liberalization as COVID has shown that there is a need to develop some companies providing essential services,” She said.
The implantation relies on the political will and has to be driven by the government. This can also only be possible when there is peace and security and it is vital for the AfCFTA. When there is peace, it will help attract investors into a country.”