It’s not uncommon to hear of the misconceptions that many have about Africa. Western media is often blamed for the negative information and images that depict Africa to millions of viewers across the world on a daily basis. However, with the power of social media, we can re-write our narrative and share the truth about Africa. Or, you can even be more daring and create a summit, inviting some of those who unintentionally have believed in the misconceptions, to witness Africa for themselves. This is exactly what Ms. Nerea Musita did – she brought to life the idea of the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) – Africa Business Summit. This past November 24-25, x number of delegates from x number of countries, travelled to Africa and congregated at Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club in Nairobi, Kenya.
LAC – Africa Business Summit, the first in Africa, aims to create and deepen trade ties between African and LAC countries, and ultimately strengthen one another’s economies, engage in quality south-south dialogue and knowledge exchange, and develop concrete action steps to forge long-term mutually beneficial business endeavours and relationships. The LAC Africa Summit is intended to be an annual event alternating between the LAC and Africa with the first Summit taking place in Kenya. The main themes of this Summit covered many sectors, including Food and Beverage; Agriculture and Agribusiness; Manufacturing; Extractive Industries; Infrastructure; Finance; Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Tourism.
On November 24, participants at the LAC – Africa Business Summit were welcomed to Africa and Kenya by the Summit’s Emcee, Mr. Aly-Khan Satchu. The plenary session featured some of the most prominent figures involved in Kenya’s economy: Mr. Kiprono Kittony– Chairman of Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Dr. Chris Kiptoo – Permanent Secretary from the Ministry of Industry, Cooperatives and Trade; Mr. Chris Kirubi – Top Business Man and Entrepreneur; Dr. Manu Chandaria – Chairman, Comcraft Group of Companies; and Dr. Moses Ikiara – Managing Director, Kenya Investment Authority. While each speaker gave separate remarks, one single message resonated with them all – Africa is ready for business! Kenya, in particular, has a vibrant private sector and has worked tirelessly to create a strong investment climate that is geared up for new business, new partnerships and new collaborations of mutual interest and as equal stakeholders. Kenya can be a gateway to the rest of Africa, but Latin American and Caribbean countries can also take full advantage of the regional economic trade blocs to increase their market access on the continent.
Mr. Delroy Howell, a top businessman in Jamaica and the Caribbean, wasted no time stating and confirming Jamaica’s high interest to do business with Africa. A strong supporter of sustainable development, he emphasized the need to keep the environment clean and viable for future generations.
The panelists also noted that this Summit and concrete south-south cooperation were long overdue. With geographical and historical similarities between continents, we should have looked to each other decades ago. While misconceptions about each other’s continents have kept the continents apart, the Summit served as a game changer to dispel all fallacies and pave a new way forward.
The second session of the day addressed whether LAC and Africa could have realistic partnerships. Panelists hailed from Argentina, Brazil, Cameroon, Jamaica and Kenya. Those from LAC countries expressed sincere interest in sharing best practices and lessons learned with African countries. Mr. Ricardo Latkani, Chairman of the AfroChamber (Chamber of Afro-Brazilian trade) said that there is valuable knowledge exchange within many sectors, including agribusiness, technology and health. He is eager to connect companies with similar businesses and interests. Another panelist, noted strong interest to work with indigenous populations such as the Maasai, to inspire creative products and services and promote the livelihoods of these communities. The panel concluded with a consensus that realistic partnerships are possible and they begin today!
Over lunch, there was a closed bilateral session –invite only– for one on one conversations with key Kenyan Government Principal Secretaries, LAC companies and embassies, and Kenyan and African Private Sector Companies.
The afternoon offered four parallel sessions covering different sectors: manufacturing, tourism, extractive industries, and food and beverage. These sessions honored the Summit’s core concept for business-to-business (B2B) and business to government sessions to allow for direct and personal networking and discussions between counterparts.
Key outcomes for each session:
- Manufacturing: Latin America, particularly Argentina, has made significant strides in agriculture and is keen to share, find opportunities and trade knowledge. In textiles, we have much in common our use of handcrafting and incorporating traditional aesthetics. However, Kenya could strongly benefit from learning how to scale up and actively participate in the value added aspect of supply chains. There is a need to have more market data to help support investment decisions. Lastly, investment should not only focus on big industries, but also small to medium enterprises.
- Tourism: It is a known fact that Kenya is known as one of the world’s top tourist destinations. One panelist noted that about 3% of Brazilian travelers visited Africa—
on the flipside, less than 1% of African tourism visited Brazil. The biggest barriers include the strong misconceptions of each continent and the time and distance it takes to travel. Business and tourism can grow with more cultural exchanges direct flying routes to the continent, open sky policies, and accurate depictions of both LAC countries and Africa as a whole.
- Extractive Industries: Kenya as a country has made great strides in the extractive industries, especially with the discovery of commercially viable oil. However, Kenya is still ironing out how to address issues related to policy, natural resource management and land rights, among others.
- Food and Beverage: Africa has the potential to feed the world. The food production industry is vulnerable to the environment, climate change, infrastructure, transportation, storage, government policies to name a few. Uncertainties, fluctuation, or weaknesses in any of these areas can make or break the industry. The sector also has the ability to create thousands of employment opportunities. Latin America can share industry knowledge, training and invest in corporations as well as cooperatives made up of small scale holders. African governments need to review policies and laws to make agriculture scalable, profitable, and attractive for investment.
The afternoon provided more opportunities for B2B sessions and networking. The day concluded with an African dinner entertained by traditional African singers and dancers.
The second day of the Summit began with an energetic session on Public-Private Partnerships between LAC countries and Africa with panelists from regional organizations. Panelists identified that regional trade blocs and integration offer functional free trade areas in terms of movement of goods, business capital and other incentives for ease of business. Kenya, through KenInvest is ready to provide a database for investors, mapping out the various sectors by their performance and is open to consider other provisions that would enable investors access to the Kenyan market. In addition, Africa can learn from LAC countries on how to become more attractive to investors in all sectors, including how to develop tax incentives, favorable business climate, and a highly productive labour force.
Similar to the previous day, the afternoon was broken down into industry-focused sessions. Key outcomes for the sessions included the following:
- Infrastructure: Africa’s population is growing and infrastructure and construction industry need to keep up the pace. Financing options are limited for large infrastructure projects. Argentina has improved access to finance and Kenya can learn from them and consider similar options. It’s important to thoroughly understand the complexity of large infrastructure projects before embarking on them.
- ICT: The ICT sector was one area where tables turned and LAC countries could learn from Kenya’s experience with mobile banking (M-Pesa) and other innovations taking place and rapidly influencing the economy. However, there needs to be more competition, especially in telecommunications, which will ultimately provide Kenyans will better products and services. Argentina, in particular, is interested in investing in the ICT sector.
- Agribusiness: Kenya should consider the no till system for agriculture, a successful system used in Argentina since 1999. The no till system greatest benefit is soil conservation and is based on 3 pillars: social, economic and environment sustainability. Livestock production (both meat and milk) is another area for growth in Kenya, and where leaders in this sector hail from Latin America. This sector is dependent on the success of the food sector, access to finance as well as government support to the sector at large. Kenya needs to increase productivity in this sector and decrease the costs of engagement. In general, Kenya and Africa at large need to embrace modern and technological methods of agriculture for maximum productivity. Due to resistance that may arise with the introduction of such new systems, the government should train and educate industry professionals on the benefits of such programmes – exchange programmes would be very helpful.
- Finance: International conditions dictate the growth of markets. Kenya and Africa have the ability to attract investors, though great risks ward or keep investors at bay. At the end of the day, investors are interested in returns, so it is important for Kenya and other African countries review how to maximize returns. Improved legislation is very needed, notably around taxes and interest rates. Kenya must identify its priority in the finance sector, develop a level of trust within the finance community, and awaken interest in the sector. The government needs to tame unhealthy competition in the sector to promote efficiency. Most importantly, Africa must invest in Africa too.
Ms. Nerea Musita, LAC – Africa Business Summit Director, began the closing session by thanking all the parties involved in making the Summit not only a reality, but also a success. She singled out the Kenyan government, Latin American governments represented in the Summit and the island nation of Jamaica. She announced that the next chapter of the LAC – Africa Summit would be held in Argentina in 2017. Additionally, a date has been set in March 2017 to send a Kenyan delegation to one of the LAC countries to continue the efforts of this first LAC –Africa Business Summit.
The Chairman of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Kiprono Kittony, followed and reiterated the underlying theme of the Summit by declaring that the time for south to south engagement, which has been a long time coming, has now arrived.
Final and closing remarks we made by The Cabinet Secretary for Industry, Trade and Cooperatives, Mr Adan Mohamed. He acknowledged the historic nature of the conference bringing high-powered delegation of investors from Latin America and the Caribbean. He assured the Summit that the President acknowledges the efforts of LAC-Africa Business Summit and the desire by investors and delegates to transform the Summit into tangible results. Mr. Mohamed gently reminded those present of the relative stability of the Kenyan currency. He also confirmed that the expected economic growth rate is a respectable 5 – 6%, bolstered largely by the fact that Kenya has a diverse economy. Mr. Mohamed welcomed further investment, particularly in infrastructure, tourism, agribusiness and health and in any other sector that the investors have an interest.
Lasly, Mr. Mohamed assured the investors that nobody is impossible to meet. He pointed out that the President meets representatives from the private sector every six months and that he and his Cabinet are kept abreast of developments in industry at all times. They take note of concerns of investors and other interested parties into serious consideration. Kenya’s investment in infrastructure development –the expansion existing road network and the coming Standard Gauge Railway are a game changers.
He ended his remarks by wishing delegates an exciting safari in the Amboseli National Park and a memorable stay in the country. He, thereafter, formally brought the Summit to a close.