By Ajong Mbapndah L
Africa RISE (Reform for Investment and Sustainable Economies) is a demand-led technical assistance facility that supports inclusive and sustainable growth and decent work in Eastern Africa, Southern Africa, and the Indian Ocean region. Funded by the European Union, Africa ARISE promotes macro-economic policy and regulatory reform to create a business environment that encourages investment. Although Africa RISE only became fully operational in April of this year, it already has more than twenty projects underway across the continent , with others in preparation.
In the following Q & A John Clifford , Africa RISE team Leader sheds light on the vision, projects, strides, and impact that ARISE is creating in parts of Africa where it currently has operations.
Could we start with an introduction of Africa RISE, when was it created and what does it do?
Launched in January 2021, Africa RISE (Reform for Investment and Sustainable Economies) is a demand-driven technical assistance facility that supports inclusive and sustainable growth and decent work in Eastern Africa, Southern Africa, and the Indian Ocean region. It promotes macro-economic policy and regulatory reform to create a business environment that encourages investment. The facility is funded by the European Union.
In what way do services offered by Africa RISE fit in the current development trend across Africa?
Africa RISE is one element of the European Union’s development portfolio, so we are very closely aligned with the overall strategic objectives of the EU, and issues such as sustainable growth, climate resilience and the green economy are central to what we do. Trade promotion and facilitation are also high on our agenda, as increased trade, both within Africa and beyond, can drive growth and create employment. What this means in practice is that a substantial amount of our work so far has concerned trade promotion or the reduction of barriers to trade. E-commerce and online business have featured strongly too. We have a very broad mandate but the common factor in everything we do is the need to increase investment and generate decent jobs. The European Union has allocated substantial funds to support investment across Africa, so part of our work is to help identify opportunities for those funds to be used effectively.
May we know some of the significant achievements of Africa RISE since its creation?
Africa RISE only became fully operational in April of this year but already we have more than twenty projects underway, with others in preparation. These initiatives have been selected based on several criteria, primarily their alignment with Africa RISE objectives and their potential to have long-term impact.
The first of our projects have just been completed. As an example, one of these will be used as the basis for support worth millions of Euros from the EU and several individual member states for the creation of a single digital market throughout the countries of the East African Community. Once operational, the single market will benefit businesses and consumers across the region, enhance economic growth and generate millions of jobs.
In what parts of Africa does Africa RISE have operations?
Africa RISE operates in 25 countries: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
What are some of the challenges faced in doing business or providing services across Africa?
Africa has the potential to become a major global economic force, but there are numerous challenges to business development. In many of our target countries the operating environment for businesses is difficult, with a lack of clarity about regulations, and administrative procedures that are sometimes long and complex. This does not create the confidence in businesses for them to invest, thus hindering economic growth and employment creation. On top of this, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact, both economically and socially, all around the world and Africa has suffered as much as if not more than other regions. At the same time, there is a need to provide immediate responses to the COVID-19 crisis and to build the tools for a long-term and medium-term development strategy. The role of Africa RISE technical assistance is to facilitate this transition and help countries overcome the obstacles they face. One major problem facing businesses on the continent is the lack of access to finance. This difficulty has been exacerbated by COVID-19 so Africa RISE is providing technical assistance in several countries to identify where and how the European Union can bring its financial resources to bear to tackle this issue.
Could you shed some light on some of the major projects that Africa Rise is working on across Africa?
As I said earlier, we have more than twenty projects currently running, with others in the pipeline, and I have already mentioned the project on the EAC single digital market.
In Botswana, we have been working with “SmartBots”, a Presidential initiative to establish Botswana as a “smart society”, making maximum use of information technologies to develop the economy and improve standards of living for the population. This is one element of the wider target of transforming Botswana into a high-income country by 2036. Our work with SmartBots is in two parts: one is to develop a national innovation framework, which will improve the effectiveness of the innovation ecosystem in Botswana. This will help small businesses to innovate and become more competitive, promoting inclusive and sustainable growth in Botswana. Our second project is the development of a digital entrepreneurship package for women. Women generally face greater obstacles to participation in the digital economy than those faced by men. This package will help to overcome some of these obstacles and ensure that women are able to compete on a level playing field.
In Namibia, our consultants are assessing the country’s e-commerce readiness to enable it to better engage in and benefit from e-commerce. One of the initial findings is that the majority of owners and workers of small businesses are from vulnerable socio-economic groups and that 60% of this group are women. Wider adoption of e-commerce will therefore have to ensure that the needs of these businesses are fully taken into account so that they are not left behind by the digital revolution. This also highlights the potential of e-commerce development to benefit women and vulnerable groups if it is equitably implemented. The experience of Botswana may be useful in this respect.
The last project I want to mention is a little bit unusual. It is a feasibility study in Mauritius into the establishment of a facility for the recycling of end-of-life or “total loss” vehicles, more commonly known as a scrapyard. Scrap vehicles are a major issue on the island, for both environmental and road safety reasons. The feasibility study is looking into the establishment, operation and management of a vehicle dismantling and parts recycling facility. The team has been looking at the physical infrastructure needed for dealing with these scrap vehicles – which may involve existing businesses and facilities – and the regulatory position – for example, licensing requirements for hazardous materials handling and disposal. The recommendations will be presented to the Mauritian Government shortly so that it can decide on its preferred option and proceed to implementation.
What are some of the factors taken into consideration when making a choice of projects or country to work for Africa Rise?
Africa RISE supports requests from government and business groups for technical assistance aligned to the EU partnership with Africa on sustainable investment and jobs. Our overall aims are to create a more conducive, sustainable and inclusive business environment, help strengthen political and policy dialogue, and stimulate investment. In all of this, we remain conscious of the ultimate objective, which is to create decent jobs for more people. We provide technical expertise to unlock or trigger investments.
As far as the choice of countries is concerned, this is not a matter for negotiation; we are restricted to the twenty-five countries that I mentioned earlier. In contrast, the range of projects is quite diverse. In addition to the projects already mentioned, we are working on standards, especially relating to food products, trade promotion, public-private dialogue and renewable energy, amongst others. So, as you can see, we operate in many fields. The key selection criteria are, firstly, the potential to stimulate investment and create employment, and secondly, alignment with the priorities agreed between the European Union and the Government in the country or region of the project.
We receive and respond to many requests. Of course, not all are approved for implementation, but we give consideration to every request that we receive. I invite potential partners to visit our website https://www.eu-africa-rise.com/ to learn more about the Africa RISE programme.
Talking of the investment climates in parts of Africa that you operate in, what recommendations do you have for governments to make it better?
Each of the countries we operate in has its own specific characteristics so it’s difficult to generalise. I would make just one point, though. Many of the countries covered by Africa RISE occupy very low positions in the World Bank Doing Business rankings. This is something that can be improved – and only the governments can make this improvement. So, my recommendation would be to make the business environment more friendly to businesses, especially small businesses. This does not mean scrapping all regulations, but it does mean making the system simpler and clearer. The less time that a small business owner has to spend dealing with regulations, the more time he or she can spend on doing real business.
Any other big projects of Africa Rise coming up that you want to share as we wrap up this interview?
We don’t have any great flagship project in our pipeline at the moment. We do have a number of projects working through our systems that we expect to get underway in the New Year. They are, for the most part, similar to the work that we are already doing. Most of our work is not especially glamourous but it’s not intended to be. We like to think that what we do provides part of the foundations on which the big projects are built.