Support for Africa pops up everywhere at Lusaka meetings
While the public structures that run the political framework of the African Union from Addis Ababa are still struggling to find an overarching theme for African unity, the private sector is forging ahead with many tangible initiatives. The series of meetings accompanying the main annual meeting of the African Development Bank in Lusaka, provided an eye-opener to show just how far ahead in the integration game the private sector has moved.
This implies that the Africa Union is under pressure to give life, meaning and functionality to the grandiose political structures that are mostly still in their infancy.
The annual meeting of the African Development Bank was held this week in Lusaka, a city notorious for its cost of living, but not without significance, as reflected in the bank’s choice to make it the venue for this year’s meetings. The meetings created a flood of news items and public relations, yet all pointed in only one direction. The private sector is not waiting for Addis Ababa for approval. It is carrying on full steam figuring out the nuts and bolts to unleash the enormous African potential.
It is common cause that Africa will absorb a sizeable chunk of all developing capital over the next fifty years. However, there is very little agreement what the primary goals are, and what must be targeted only at a later stage. But by reading through the many reports emanating from Lusaka, it was not hard to sense that private capital is leading the way, and that eventually, it may make the role of the political architects superfluous.
Perhaps the most revealing snippet that came across my desk, is the myriad of private investors and non-governmental private sector organisations, who attended with a clear view of getting in on the action at an early stage.
The African Development Bank, in my mind, is just the right type of organisation to steer a very specific part of the development agenda. The bank is a mature institution and has assumed a credible international profile over the last decade. But I believe, it is not the bank’s place to act as primary lender, but rather as a very sophisticated conduit for the capital of the rest of the world. In a sense, one can describe its future role as that of a market maker, but on a massive continental scale. The many hundreds of delegates who pitched up in Lusaka, are clear testimony that international investors are eagerly waiting for the big break. The only element still required is a reputable capital manager and it is in this regard where I see the biggest potential for the bank.
Politically, Africa is fragmented. This is reality and it is only in the minds of foreigners that the continent exists as one homogeneous entity. In real life it is divided into more than fifty independent jurisdictions who almost never completely see eye to eye on any particular issue. This is arguably one of the biggest hurdles preventing sufficient capital to flow in large quantities to the many hundreds of large projects that are just waiting for the right financing partner.
Elsewhere in this edition there are several articles on the key elements of discussion at this week’s series of meetings. Those that we have chosen all carry a Namibian or at least a regional bias, but they are only a sliver of the huge mountain of information that originated from Lusaka.
It is quire revealing that the private sector also shares the integration vision. So far, this noble goal has been very elusive. Even in our local neighbourhood, there are many obstacles in the way of regional integration. But is was a common theme that integration without the enabling infrastructure and competent people, is a pipe dream.
This is where the private sector as a powerful financing agent comes into the equation. If there are road, rail, maritime, telecommunication and banking linkages, then it becomes so much easier for the political framework to catch up.
In my mind, the continent will not develop all at once, on more or less the same trajectory. That dream is perhaps more than a hundred years away. But there is no rational argument against regional integration which I believe will follow a natural geographic pattern. Sub-Saharan Africa will first form strongly linked blocks in the West, the South and the East before it arrives at the point where these three can tackle the more difficult task of continental integration.
Meanwhile, the private sector will not sit back. I believe the private sector is the most powerful driver of development for the future.