Addis Ababa, 30 January 2018
Good morning. I want to thank all of you for being here with us this morning and for the insights you will be providing going forward in our discussions.
Despite the diverse backgrounds, I hear consistent messages that the success of business in Africa is critically important to our future.
I therefore commend this effort led by the Economic Commission for Africa, and the partners UNECA brought into this, to draw business leaders into this conversation at the African Union, and beyond.
This is long overdue, and I trust that it will be a regular feature of our Summits and of continental initiatives more generally going forward because I also have heard from many country leaders wishing to have this kind of interaction. So our job will be simple: Encouraging those who are already willing to move forward.
You should be aware that the ongoing institutional reform of the African Union includes provisions for increased engagement with the private sector.
But the primary objective of the reform is an African Union that is financed sustainably from our own resources. Governments can meet that commitment if the business sector is flourishing and paying taxes. We need active support from the private sector in fact. Without your voice, something essential is missing.
Several of the African Union’s most ambitious initiatives are designed to unshackle commercial activity and entrepreneurship, which is about providing a better quality of life to our citizens.
I am thinking about the Continental Free Trade Area, which we hope to conclude this year, as well as the free movement of people, adopted during this Summit, and the Single African Air Transport Market, which we inaugurated yesterday.
Let me say by the way, I remind Ali Mufuruki that he may wish to visit the Commission Headquarters for a different thing, and other business leaders here, I wish to remind you that you can go to the Commission for the African passport.
I hope I am not putting the African Union Commission Chair on the spot when they are not ready to provide them, but I know they have stockpiles of passports to give. Among those they want to give the passports to are country leaders, as well as business leaders, which will facilitate people to move across the continent without having to go through the hassles of visas.
These are very important measures for the competitiveness of African firms and their ability to expand to new markets and hire more employees, especially young people. And there are many other urgent frameworks for economic integration waiting to be finalised and applied.
I think it will happen more quickly if Africa’s business leaders keep advocating for Pan-African economic cooperation with policy-makers and the public, especially through the media.
I am happy to see that today’s roundtables, the way I have seen they are arranged, will be specific and full of practical detail. This makes it more likely that new public-private partnerships can be forged.
We need the private sector’s help in that regard.
Let me give the example of health. Inadequate medical care costs companies and the public sector a lot of money and lost productivity through illness and disability.
But the private sector is also part of the solution. A report from the International Finance Corporation a few years ago found that the majority of health services consumed in Africa are already supplied privately.
This doesn’t necessarily mean we should privatise our healthcare systems, but rather find ways to improve quality and access to healthcare.
In Rwanda, for example, we have entered into a public-private arrangement with a Spanish-Angolan firm to manage our largest hospital. What is being done there is already showing good success.
We are also partnering with an American company, Zipline, to pioneer the use of drone aircraft to deliver blood and other medical supplies to rural areas.
There is much more we can do when we cooperate, and this conference may generate innovative ideas which we can take forward.
We can work through the African Union, and also work with external partners, some of whom we also see here with us today, and we thank you for being here.
But more collaboration is also needed between government and business. I hope you can help make government behave more like business in the sense of focusing on accountability and results.
At the end of the day, we share the same goal of raising the well-being and prosperity of our citizens. That is what we must keep working towards.
I thank you once again for arranging this meeting, UNECA and the partners you brought in, especially helping to bring African business to work together with other partners, especially today with American businesses.
I want you to know that you can count on our support to make gatherings like this a tradition, and also keep realising the results that we want from them.
I wish you a very productive conference and I thank you very much.