The EU-Africa Business Forum: a bridge between continents

16 March 2018

The EU-Africa Business Forum was held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on 27 November 2017. Now in its sixth year, the event brings together business leaders and investors from Africa and Europe, to discuss and try to solve critical issues pertaining to both continents and their relationship.

The EU-Africa Business Forum (EABF) brought together more than 1,000 representatives from African and European businesses, as well as political leaders, to Côte d’Ivoire in November. It was held just a couple of days before the fifth African Union-EU Summit, which took place in Abidjan.

The talking points chiefly concerned attracting and stimulating the investment needed to create quality jobs across the continent, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The EABF was formed in order to commit business to sustainable and inclusive growth, as well as create jobs. Its main objective is providing a platform to express the views of business – multinationals, large corporations, small and medium enterprises and confederations, and multilateral and regional institutions – to European and African leaders.

At the event, delegates stressed the importance of setting up frameworks for closer cooperation. By merging the needs and opportunities of the two neighbouring continents, economic development can become a priority and lead to the realisation of the UN’s SDGs.

One such framework supported by the EABF participants is the European External Investment Plan. This is an important vehicle with which the EU will drive private investment with partner countries in Africa and the ‘EU Neighbourhood region’. Key aspects such as sharing risk, opening dialogue and fostering an improved investment climate are vital challenges this framework aims to address. “The European External Investment Plan is the biggest investment plan ever put into place for Africa,” said Federica Mogherini, EU high representative for foreign affairs, during her closing address at the forum.

Currently, only 4% of foreign direct investment makes its way to Africa, but circumstances are set to change thanks to the external investment plan. “We will be able to mobilise at least €44 billion in private investment between now and 2020, particularly for the most fragile zones on the continent,” Mogherini noted. “I hope and believe that others will support us in this undertaking. It is a clear illustration of our deep partnership with Africa.”

African Union economic affairs commissioner Victor Harrison mentioned that even though there are weaknesses in the continent’s economy, such as a lack of economic diversity, the business and investment climate has improved significantly. “Africa is ready to do business,” Harrison said.

Young guns

The focus is, rightly, on the younger generation of entrepreneurs that are poised to benefit from this improved business environment. By 2050, Africa’s youth population is expected to double, but for the estimated 10–12 million people entering the workforce each year, only three million formal jobs are created. Along with agriculture, the digital sector will make one of the greatest contributions to job creation in Africa.

Showcasing their talent at the forum, 135 young African and European entrepreneurs and representatives from start-ups showcased their projects at the Digital Start-up Fair. They shared their vision for the future of the two continents and mapped out a path to success.

Their exuberance, as well as more mature insight from experienced companies, was shared with government representatives in what can be seen as a continuation from what started during 2016: the wider mobilisation between Europe and Africa.

By bringing together public and private sector stakeholders, forum delegates produced a declaration full of key messages, which were to be presented to African and European leaders at the fifth AU-EU Summit. The declaration stated that the business sector is ready to upscale and facilitate investment in critical areas, and to support productivity and competitiveness to create prosperity through optimal policies.

It also committed to greater cooperation between public and private sector organisations. These partnerships, delegates argued, will help to identify innovative ways for SMEs in Africa to access finance and provide support to grow domestic businesses across the continent.

The declaration also called for European governments to encourage companies to engage in business across Africa by providing political back-up, and guaranteeing instruments for trade and investment.

We will be able to mobilise at least €44 billion in private investment between now and 2020, particularly for the most fragile zones on the continent.

Of the African governments, the delegates asked for maintained efforts to ensure legal certainty and stability, smooth and transparent administrative procedures with good governance, and to uphold social and environmental standards in public calls for tenders.

The need for investment in critical infrastructure was a common thread running through many of the discussions at the forum. There were positive signs from the forum, with a number of business projects receiving the green light. These included five regional transport projects supporting the construction or rehabilitation of crucial road corridors across West Africa; a project aimed at developing a solar power station in Benin; and another financing the modernisation of Senegal Electricity. These projects are the result of the collaboration between the EU, ECOWAS, UEMOA, African Development Bank, the French Development Agency and the European Investment Bank.

The EABF is an integral part of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy. The forum in Abidjan was the finale of a series of business-related events held in Africa and Europe during 2017. They highlighted the importance of investment, job creation and laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Sustainable Business for Africa (SB4A) platform, the EU´s new structured dialogue with the private sector aimed at achieving sustainable and inclusive growth in Africa.

The SB4A is vital for creating the appropriate forum for knowledge sharing on how to foster a better climate for investment, identifying existing constraints and helping to addressing them. By doing this, business and political leaders can work together to reinvigorate Africa’s business and create better opportunities for investment in the long term.

Delegates arrive at the EU-Africa Business Forum.