With one of the world’s fastest growing economic regions, African and international leaders gathered for an exclusive high-level conference in New York on September 27, to put forth innovative solutions on maximizing Africa’s emerging market and foreign investment potential to create much-needed jobs and spur robust economic growth and on fully engaging women in African economic development.
Under the theme, “Jobs for Africa”, The Africa-America Institute (AAI) in collaboration with UN Women, the African Women’s Development Fund and the African Business Roundtable co-hosted the 2012 Africa Business Investors Conference at the Debevoise & Plimpton law office conference center. The business investor conference was hosted the day after AAI’s Annual Awards Gala.
Held during the UN General Assembly, the one-day conference with African heads of state, senior African and U.S. government officials, corporate CEOs and other business leaders, and representatives of the UN and multilateral organizations aimed to provide high-power networking and dialogue to lay the groundwork for action on the continent’s need to rapidly create millions of stable wage-paying jobs to absorb new entrants into the labor force and to effectively compete in today’s global economy.
A McKinsey Global Institute Report estimates that Africa will add 122 million to its labor force between 2010 and 2020, creating a labor force of more than 500 million across the continent.
Youth in Africa make up nearly 40 percent of the working-age population, yet 60 percent are unemployed. The 2012 Africa Economic Outlook Report estimates that there are currently nearly 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 in Africa, and that number is expected to double by 2045.
Expanding African youth’s access to education and equipping them with the required skills necessary for jobs in the 21st century are essential to security and prosperity in Africa.
Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama in an opening address acknowledged that African nations must generate sustainable jobs in response to Africa’s rapidly changing demographics, particularly the fast growing youth population. “Those coming out of the school system at various levels, are coming out and looking for jobs… That is one of the main greatest challenges that we have.”
The National Youth Employment Program was initiated to engage Ghana’s unemployed young people in the environmental, agriculture and communications industries. President Mahama noted that the program has turned into a training program for young people to identify and develop an employable skill set to assist in securing job opportunities. The president added that Ghana also offers a yearlong national service program, a nation-building initiative that enables college graduates to give back to their country by participating in development projects in education, health care and other service sectors.
Keynote speakers drew attention to the importance of bolstering women’s participation as entrepreneurs and employers. The World Bank’s Africa Competitiveness Report 2011 concludes that women can be powerful drivers of African economic development, citing that at nearly 40%, the level of women’s entrepreneurship in Africa is higher than in any other world region.
Michelle Bachelet, executive director of UN Women, emphasized that to achieve job creation and economic growth African nations must unleash the full potential of women. “By opening doors to women across Africa, allowing women’s entrepreneurial talents to flourish, and developing successful businesses that create jobs that stimulate the economy, we can make economic growth rise even higher,” said Bachelet.
The former president of Chile said for countries to take advantage of all their talent, they need to take proactive measures, including instituting equitable policies and laws to enable women to start a business and protect themselves from workplace discrimination.
Equal access to mobile technology is one way to strengthen economic growth in Africa, said Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, by expanding access to information and mobile money to help African women to grow their businesses and contribute to local economies. A Cherie Blair Foundation report found that women in Africa are 23 percent less likely to own a mobile phone compared to men, and launched an initiative to increase women’s access to improve their educational, health and employment opportunities.
To dramatically boost trade and investment in Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique, Robert Kaponda Sichinga, Zambia’s Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry delivered remarks on behalf of Zambia’s President Michael Chilufya Sata on the investment opportunities available through the Zambia-Malawi-Mozambique Growth Triangle. The Growth Triangle is a private sector-public sector partnership to enhance trade and investment opportunity to boost sub-regional development and economic growth.
Under the Growth Triangle, the three countries have investment opportunities for funding and implementation in infrastructure development, tourism development, transport and communication, information technology, and trade facilitation, among others.
“Investors in these three countries enjoy preferential market access to a bigger regional market of over 600 million people, from the tip of South Africa to the northern tip of Egypt. This is an exciting time to invest in the Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique growth triangle,” President Sata said in his remarks. “For us who are citizens living in the region, we see this as an exciting time to invest in Zambia, Malawi or Mozambique growth triangle. The sad part is that American investors seem to be unaware of these opportunities.”
“Africa is not poor, it’s simply poorly managed,” Zambia’s Trade Minister Robert Kaponda Sichinga said during the Q&A. “The problem will not be solved from the outside… They [Europe, U.S. and China] can complement, but it must be us who must determine what we must do.”
Sichinga recommended that African nations should focus efforts on investing in infrastructure development and extractive industries to further economic growth.
Please see highlights and excerpts from keynote speakers and panelists from the 2012 Africa Business Investor Conference.
Opening Plenary I
Investing in Ghana and the West Africa Region
His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, President, Republic of Ghana
African Women Entrepreneurs and Mobile Technology; International Council on Women’s Business Leadership
Cherie Blair, Founder of The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women
Investment Opportunities in the Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique: Growth Triangle
His Excellency Mic