Saturday 3 March was the final day of the 20th Annual Africa Business Conference (ABS) hosted by Harvard Business School (HBS). If you missed my Day 1 experience, you can find it here. Where to begin? It was a great day. I opted out of the party on Friday, so I woke up refreshed and ready for my session in the afternoon. I am glad I made that choice because the keynotes started at 8.45. The day was structured in two parts. The morning was dedicated to Agriculture and the natural resources of the continent whilst the afternoon was focussed on infrastructure.
Natural resources and Agriculture
It is not a secret that Africa is rich in natural resources, precious metals, commodities and the list goes on. The morning keynote addresses and panel discussions were focussed on this fact. Razia Kahn, Chief Economist for Africa & Middle East at Standard Chartered Bank made a point that I am still reflecting on. She said, “The growth enthusiasm is returning to Africa” the economic outlook although mired by some challenges is trending positively for the continent. From a macro perspective it is reassuring to hear because I have been preoccupied with how Liberia can overcome its economic challenges but the data points around economic growth is clear. Additionally, one of the most poignant points for me was the fact that 60% of the world’s arable land is in Africa. As Karim Senhadji, CEO Africa, OCP, made his case for why Africa has the potential to be the world’s food basket, I was fascinated by this. Over half of the world’s fertile and unused cropland is in Africa. Mr. Senhadji’s address made me think about the continent being so solution rich yet skills deficient, this dichotomy has been one of the main challenges of progress across the continent so it was not a surprise that this inherent theme emerged early on. I liked OCP’s approach to this problem. They are enabling smallholder farmers with the skills and capital to grow their businesses. The keynotes then transitioned into a panel discussion about governance and the role government and leadership plays with progressing the continent. For me, the most important rhetorical question was posed by Mr. Senhadji when he stated “ From an intra African perspective, why aren’t rich Africans investing in Africa?” Foreign investment is viable and an avenue for growth and there are also Africans who have the means to contribute to the progress of not only their country but also regions, so why aren’t they?
The afternoon session was dedicated to Infrastructure. I am going to ask for forgiveness as the keynote speaker from Afreximbank stood in for his CEO and went straight into his address so I did not catch his ‘name slide’. However, he made the point that resonated with me the most. Afreximbank believes that Africa will be the next manufacturing hub. This was quite interesting and after his presentation I believed it as well. Currently the US is number one followed closely by China. However, China has been investing heavily across the continent. If you also add the number of Infrastructure deals in Africa and increased labor costs around the world (including) India, Africa is primed to take this spot. I then politely excused myself to get ready for my session.
My Panel: Creating a narrative-Trailblazing in African media
When I decided to start my company, I wanted to create an environment that I would not be bored, where I could create my own space, narrative and one that would provide opportunities. So I decided to occupy a very specific space. A place where my advisory and creative business can co-exist. As I celebrate my 1 year anniversary (in three weeks) of going into business for myself, this panel was full circle. I was invited to speak on the importance of creating our narrative, the opportunities, and challenges that exist in African media. I was joined by amazing women, Nicole Amarteifo, creator of An African City, Ndeye Diarra Diobaye, Marketing Consultant, Khadijatou Tambajang, Founder, MakalliMatta Consulting and moderated by Funke Ogunkoya, Media Entrepreneur. Our panel was off the record as with all panels, and therefore we could share our views freely. We covered so many topics for the 1.5hrs we were talking, in summary, my main points were 1) My vision for African media is a place where we can tell stories that are unrestricted by social norms and patriarchy. A platform that focuses on our specific stories, which in turn has universal appeal. 2) We need to invest in and consistently engage with start-ups/content creators that are focussed on African stories. 3) Western validation is not the goal; taking ownership and control of our businesses and stories is. Finally, creativity is a business, a viable/profitable avenue to thrive; therefore we should not limit the innovation of our continent by restricting the aspirations of our youth.
After the show was the after party
The only thing to say here is, we know how to party!! The party is as good as the DJ. DJ Juls (also a panellist during the day) did not disappoint with the afrobeats selection. Patoranking and Maleek Berry performed sets during the night. I had a very good night.
This was a great conference. It has been the best conference focussed on Africa outside of Africa that I have attended and I don’t say this lightly. The reasons are simple, representation, balance and perspective. There was representation from across the continent that included Senegal, Cote D’ivoire, Botswana, Tanzania, Congo, Gambia and so much more. This allowed for a truly diverse and continental perspective that underpinned the discussions. Additionally, there was representation across industry SMEs. The private equity investors and economists were with the musicians and writers. This is particularly important as sometimes some Africans can be condescending towards individuals who choose a creative path Patoranking (Nigerian artist) during his panel stated, “Music is one of Africa’s natural resources”. I couldn’t agree more. I would extend that to say creativity is. There was also balance. Women and men were there speaking from a place of expertise. As simple as it sounds it is hard for some to understand. These details set the groundwork for why this conference has been running for 20 years. It was an honour to be invited to speak and I was inspired by what I saw. So what next?
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