African business leaders have advocated more private sector participation in intra-Africa trade to unlock the untapped potential of the continent.
The experts, who spoke at the Africa Business Conference 2014 tagged ‘African Lions Arising: Driving Private Sector Growth through Enhanced Intra-Africa Trade’ held at Lagos Business School recently, advised African entrepreneurs to look inwards and take advantage of opportunities in sectors ranging from energy, media and entertainment to manufacturing and agri-business, among others.
Mr Chinedu Nedo, minister of power, highlighted the numerous goldmines in the continent’s power sector, which he said were exploitable if only players could scale national and regional boundaries to leverage on their respective areas of strength.
The minister, who was represented by Ambassador Godknows Igali, permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Power, urged young entrepreneurs to creatively invest in the sector, which he said was more robust and viable due to the recent privatisation exercise.
“There is much potential for Africa to play a dominant role in energy. The AU’s vision is that by 2020 – through interaction and sustainable development of African endowments – we’ll take our people out of darkness and give 50 percent of them access to light,” he said. “We now have a power sector that offers young entrepreneurs in Nigeria and Africa the best of reasons to showcase their creativity and benefit from Africa’s biggest market.”
“African entrepreneurs should not just voice concerns but try to put forward solutions and suggestions. They should work with but not ‘for’ the public sector,” quipped Rod Gravelet-Blondin, director, East Africa Exchange, who observed the stagnation of intra-Africa trade over the years.
In his estimation, the continent needs to develop processing plants for her natural resources so that trade within Africa will stay in Africa. “It does not necessarily mean putting a processing plant in Nigeria; it might mean Nigeria financing a processing plant in a neighbouring country. By so doing, we will increase trade within the region without losing all our natural resources,” he explained.
For Dr Ousmane Dore, country director, Nigeria Country Office of the African Development Bank, African entrepreneurs should give thought to product fragmentation and vertical specialisation in the production process. He also recommended deeper economic and social reforms, more space for product complementarity and relaxed supply constraints to boost intra-Africa trade.
Breakout panel sessions followed where sectoral issues were discussed and recommendations made. Panelists included Nollywood actress, Genevieve Nnaji; John Obaro, MD, SystemSpecs and Jonathan Richardson, Australian High Commissioner to Nigeria.
The Africa Business Conference is a flagship event at LBS which aims to imbibe in participants an in-depth understanding of both local and global business trends, as well as the ability to apply international best practices to solve domestic problems in a sustainable way.