Kigali, 25 March 2019
It is a great pleasure for me and for all Rwandans to welcome you all to Kigali for this year’s edition of the Africa CEO Forum.
We are honoured by the presence of many national leaders and business delegations from every corner of our continent, and beyond.
Allow me to extend a very special welcome to the Heads of State and Government who have joined us. Excellencies, you are most welcome.
I wish to thank our partners, the Jeune Afrique Group, for selecting Rwanda to host this forum and for the hard work that has gone into organising the event.
One year ago, 44 countries signed on to the African Continental Free Trade Area, and more have done so since. Just as importantly, the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons was also adopted.
The Continental Free Trade Area is on the cusp of coming into force. I understand that only one more ratification is needed.
However, as we all know, this is where the hard work begins.
So it is very timely for us to gather here today to discuss how to make the most out of this historic agreement, among other important issues.
We only reached this point because Africa came together with a strong unity of purpose, that is rooted in the rising aspirations of our young people for a better future. That same spirit should drive us forward to success.
Whatever we try to do, even in terms of economic development, the result comes back to the politics surrounding it. If the politics is bad, everything else is bad. That is why open, responsive, and accountable governance is so critical.
We therefore need the urgency and focus that only the private sector can provide, with its unique ability to envision new opportunities on the horizon, and seize them.
However, no one should be satisfied with business as usual. This is the right time for private sector leaders to reflect on what needs to be changed and improved on their end, as well. So that we have a situation where the private sector and the public sector will challenge and push each other to make more than progress.
The implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, especially at national level, will require constant dialogue and flexibility. The full involvement of the African business community is critical, to keep us on track.
In less than a generation, it is projected that Africa will have the world’s biggest workforce. You mush have heard this many times. That means 1.1 billion working-age Africans, which is more than China or India.
We don’t have any time to waste to do what is necessary, so that this statistic becomes Africa’s greatest asset, rather than a burden for our continent and the world.
It is our responsibility to ensure that deeper integration translates into prosperity and well-being for Africa’s people.
For one thing, half of those one billion people will be women. So long as women face unnecessary obstacles in using their talents to the full, we are all going to continue paying a heavy price, in terms of lost wealth.
Overall, what we need is much more business activity, above all with each other. So that we see the emergence of global African firms with continental scope and scale, which champion the interests and ambitions of our people.
The public and private sectors must work even more closely together, to provide the education and training that will equip Africa’s young workers with the skills to excel in manufacturing, services, and technology.
Africa will soon be the biggest, on some measures. Africa can also be among the best. Our continent must aim to compete on quality, not just on cost.
The key factor in all of this, is mindset. Is mindset change expensive? I don’t think so. It might be difficult, but we can afford to effect it. Mindset has no price, yet nothing has greater value.
Knowing and sharing the examples of those who have succeeded in Africa will help illuminate the path. And above all, encouraging cooperation.
Working together to make a triumph of the Continental Free Trade Area and the Free Movement of Persons, is therefore of the very highest consequence for Africa’s future.
Let me conclude by welcoming you all once again, and wishing you productive discussions, and a very enjoyable stay in Rwanda.
I thank you for your kind attention, and I look forward to interacting with you, in the next session.