How can Africa claim its place on global stage?

At the just-concluded Africa CEO Forum in Kigali, a complex question was posed. The question asked whether Africa should be at the table or on the menu, and whether this was a critical moment to shape a new future for Africa.

There was, at least, consensus that Africa has to be at the table, which means that it is an vital moment for the continent to establish itself as an independent and influential force on the global stage.

But this consensus did not come without an even more intricacy. Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, set a strong precedent.

“Africa does not have to ask for a seat at the table,” he said, rather implying that although the continent needs a place at the global stage, it does not certainly need to ask for it.

It is a clear account that Africa has all it takes to position itself in the global arena. The continent is endowed with natural resources, the world’s youngest population, and it is home to 65 per cent of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land.

Yet, these resources remain untapped. Even when they are tapped, they don’t add value to the countries that possess them. That is what leaders ought to painstakingly change.

“We cannot remain a place where people pull rocks out of the ground, which others then turn into high tech products and sell back to us,” said Kagame, referring to the centuries-long practice where Africa allows foreigners to mine its resources and take them out of the continent.

Africa is estimated to hold about 30 per cent of the volume of proven critical mineral reserves. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) accounts for over 70 per cent of global cobalt output and approximately half the world’s proven reserves.

South Africa, Gabon and Ghana collectively account for over 60 per cent of global manganese production. Zimbabwe, alongside the DRC and Mali, hold substantial but yet-to-be-explored lithium deposits.

Guinea, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zambia, to name but a few, are other countries with significant critical mineral reserves.

Shockingly, these vast resources are often exported in their raw state, obstructing the continent’s development and economic prospects.

Africa’s economic potential

If the continent added value to its resources, it could generate more value. Raw bauxite, for instance, fetches a modest $65 per ton, but when processed into aluminum it commands a hefty $2,335 per ton, in end-2023 prices.

Even the richest man in Africa, Aliko Dangote, agreed.

“I normally say that Africa is like a scratch card. Unless you scratch it, you will not know what number it is,” he said, highlighting that, going forward, he was convinced that the future is in Africa.

Dangote, who’s the Chairman of Dangote Group, a manufacturing conglomerate, emphasised that Africans have what it takes to make Africa great, asserting that it is the reason why he is putting his own money into the continent.

Dangote said he personally ignored the capital market boom of the U.S. that led to the growth of companies such as Google and Microsoft in favour of his Africa investments.

“We took all our money and invested in [Africa],” he said, stressing that in the last seven years, Dangote Group has invested more than $25 billion in fertilizers, petrochemicals, refined products, and expansion of cement production.

Dangote currently operates the largest oil refinery in Africa which started production in February this year. At a cost of $20 billion, the refinery will produce 650,000 barrels per day (bpd).

For Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, Chairman of Access Holdings, the question whether Africa needs a seat at the table is affirmative, however, the bigger question is rather what kind of table can Africa sit on.

“Is the seat as high as the seat of others – are we sitting on seats or are we sitting on stools? When we come to the table, there is a substance of our invitation and the substance of whether what we bring to the table gives us a type of voice that is listened to?” he questioned.

All in all, he insisted that there is no longer one table and that Africa can aim to emulate China’s development model to create its table.

Aig-Imoukhuede highlighted that Africa is beginning to play a role as CEOs of some of the leading organisations that are considered to be influential such as World Trade Organisation (WTO) and World Health Organisation (WHO).

The limitations

Although political and business leaders say Africa has all it takes to claim its rightful place on the global stage, there are challenges that limit the continent’s pace to realise its ambitions.

These challenges, Amir Ben Yahmed, CEO of Jeune Afrique Group, the organiser of the Africa CEO Forum, said include lack of unity among African countries, the continent’s less attractiveness, and continued deterioration of macroeconomic conditions.

These challenges, he said, worry the private sector.

“If you look at it [unity of Africa], 30% of the continent is embroiled in some sort of conflict,” he said, adding that the challenging macroeconomic conditions have seen Africa witness a rise in poverty levels for the first time in 25 years.

Similarly, Yahmed stressed that although the continent celebrated the inception of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, there are not enough signs of progress five years later.

“These issues are threatening to reverse two decades of progress,” he noted, adding that for Africa not to land on the menu of global powers and to secure a place at the table of global negotiation, there is a need for radical change.

The continent embarked on the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) aimed to boost integration. Signed in 2018 in Kigali, the pact seeks to change how African countries trade with each and ultimately ease the movement of its people.

Intra-Africa trade remains low, currently standing at less than 16 per cent compared with 59 per cent in Asia and 69 per cent in Europe.

The implementation of AfCFTA, the world’s largest free trade, both by area and by the number of countries, could boost regional income by 7 per cent or $450 billion by 2035, according to the World Bank.

“The rationale is that we have the resources, but we need to be able to share them amongst ourselves. The more united Africa is, the more productive with our partners will become,” Kagame noted.

Leaders in Africa see the integration for Africa’s business community as an opportunity to grow markets and become more competitive.

“There is huge potential to grow intra-Africa trade. There are some bottlenecks, yes, but what we need is goods that are able to be traded within the African continent,” said Nicolas Sartini, Senior Vice President for Business Development at MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company.







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