Interview with Edem Adzogenu, Special Advisor at AfroChampions

Edem Adzogenu, the special advisor to the AfroChampions’ executive committee revisits the foundations of the initiative and reports back on its information roadshow. What’s your initial verdict on the roadshow? It was successful insofar as it allowed us to confirm a number of hypotheses. The first is that the private sector is willing to engage […]


Edem Adzogenu, the special advisor to the AfroChampions’ executive committee revisits the foundations of the initiative and reports back on its information roadshow.

What’s your initial verdict on the roadshow?

It was successful insofar as it allowed us to confirm a number of hypotheses. The first is that the private sector is willing to engage with the process. It’s important that its representatives can take part in a dialogue with public actors. The second is that we’ve established that there are many, many aspects to be taken into account for the AfCFTA to function, in terms of customs, trade, facilitating transactions, etc. All of these aspects are important. We also see the possibility of continuing the dialogue that we’ve started, of engaging in follow-ups with the private sector. All the people that we’ve just met are interested in this platform that will give them access to AU institutions.

In addition, the roadshow allowed us to organise a number of introductions, and exchanges of best practice. These connections between business people encourage everything that we’re trying to do in terms of knowledge and skills transfer between successive generations of entrepreneurs, in order to develop a model, and to develop African standards that are relevant for us. Until now, there has been a lot of copy-pasting of standards from abroad – from the Western world – which are sometimes less relevant. We have seen lots of foreign multinationals lose themselves, and their principles, through exploitative use of individuals and resources. It’s precisely because we want to propose a new way of doing things that we’ve created the AfroChampions Charter – a new way of achieving growth that does not come at the expense of certain populations or certain categories of person.

The private sector is central to the AfroChampions intitative. How do you plan to mobilise as many actors as possible from this sector?

We are aiming to create a bigger critical mass of champions, who might sign up to follow in the footsteps of existing champions. In fact, some personalities have already joined us, such as Aliko Dangote and Kuseni Dlamini, Paul Fokam and Jean-Louis Billon, who come from all over the continent – this is a very important point because these are people who share the pan-African spirit – but above all, these are people who have worked for this integration within their local ecosystems. Through their activities, they have helped local contractors and smaller businesses; they have developed value chains in proportion with their business activity. That’s where our interest lies.

These are pioneers in the sense that although for the time being, there are no African businesses on the Fortune 500 list, one day there will be. And above all, these pioneers will help others, in their ecosystems, to rise and become AfroChampions. We aim to inspire excellence, and respect for the principles we believe in, which are enshrined in our charter. Our priority is to define these African standards. Not all companies are trying to develop a local ecosystem, to ensure inclusive growth, or to integrate or create regional value chains. It’s important for the continent that we develop these standards, in such a way that the respect garnered by AfroChampions encourages others to follow their example and take the same path. It’s through this mechanism that we intend to create this critical mass of actors.

What are the next steps after the first information roadshow on the AfCFTA?

The roadshow isn’t an end in itself; there will be others to follow. Right now, we believe that visiting all of the countries who have signed the AfCFTA is a strategic priority. There are 44 of them, so the schedule will be a full one. This is an important stage, in the sense that just because Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana have signed, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the entrepreneurs in these countries have understood the issues. So we have to do some educational work around these. In this respect, the numerous questions we were asked during the discussions we held have revealed the need to properly explain the timeline for implementation, the content of the reforms, and the impact of free movement. All of the issues raised must be further explained to the entrepreneurs, so it’s very important for us to carry on with the roadshows and not to leave any country out.

What role will sovereign wealth funds play in terms of financing and the impact on the economies of African countries? How can it be made into an effective force?

This is one of the essential elements of our AfroChampions programme, since we are pursuing the goal of economic integration. On the one hand, economic integration comes under the remit of the AfCFTA, and on the other, the free movement of goods presupposes an infrastructure network. But we don’t have this infrastructure at the moment. Only sovereign wealth fund investments will enable us to build it. Our project is based on a very clear vision that takes the connection between all of these issues into account. That’s why we want to see the creation of this alliance between the sovereign wealth funds, which must realise that the capital in these funds greatly exceeds their financial capital alone. They also have the capacity, and are accustomed to managing projects, and they also possess a wealth of human capital. All of these resources could be pooled. The issue now is not limited to the construction of one dam or one road, but to build a real infrastructure network, on a regional scale at least.

Back to the origins of the AfroChampions initiative – how did it come into existence? And in what circumstances?

It came out of a sense of concern, and a rising awareness. As I mentioned, for too long we’d been talking about pan-Africanism, African renaissance, and new partnerships for African development, etc, but in my view, it was all still too theoretical and intellectual. In concrete terms, we weren’t able to determine who, on the continent, could be considered a champion, or by what criteria. That’s why we decided to create and develop an index that allowed us to see how the African companies who are champions of cross-border trade could provide hope for the economic integration of Africa. At that stage, two realisations emerged. The first is that we can’t transform our economies without integrating the original markets, by giving them the chance to speak with a single voice. The other realisation came out of the Ebola epidemic, which struck Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in 2015. People are trapped inside their borders. We dealt with this situation – the AU and African multinationals came together and mobilised some significant financial resources. Thanks to this global partnership, Ebola was under control within six months. That showed me that when multinationals and the African private sector form partnerships with governments, they play an essential role in helping to transform African economies.

African multinationals are our only chance to achieve the economic integration of the continent. Most of them didn’t exist 20 or 25 years ago. Significant efforts have been made over the last 15 years. Companies such as Dangote or Ecobank have emerged very recently, but they’ve broken through the existing barriers in order to achieve this integration.

Will they follow you?

Nothing is certain. Around the world today, we can see an increasing trend in isolationism and in inward-looking attitudes, like with Brexit and “America First”. But Africa has no other choice but to develop trade between all countries on the continent. We can’t rely on anything but ourselves. We must use our space, in terms of agriculture, trade, environmental and health sectors, etc. Faced with the global dynamic we want to create, states won’t have any other choice. They are not the ones who trade, businesses are. And we can’t let our absence from global trade continue. African SMEs must be able to benefit from the success of the biggest groups, and be supported by them, so that they too can succeed. SMEs can take advantage of the path shown to them by the multinationals. In Germany, for example, this is how local businesses became global. To put it another way, the market today is dominated by foreign groups. African companies need to become global market players. All we need is for the biggest African groups to have the capacity to take the smaller ones along with them, to make connections in solidarity, which will result in the creation of an ecosystem. The Globalizer index we’ve created shows the degree to which these groups are truly integrated within the continent, as well as their capacity to create jobs and remove barriers in order to promote better integration and lead Africa to take its place on the global stage.

What is different about the African model that you’re advocating? And what’s different about these projects?

The whole world is arguing over which should be the single model for global development – the European path, the American path, the Asian path… A small percentage of the world is advancing an economic model that 95% of the population then want to copy for themselves. To my mind, the consequences of this could be disastrous for the environment. Imagine, for example, that China fully adopted the American model of mass consumption. The cost would be enormous – everybody living in skyscrapers, with a washing machine, and a car… The most vulnerable thing we have is this planet and the people who live on it. Everything we need for making life sustainable is under threat – the soil, the trees, the air… Any development model that does not prioritise the preservation of life on this planet is unacceptable. What does it mean to produce energy in a renewable way? What are the values that we want to instil in our way of life, so that we don’t destroy the elements that our survival depends on?

The majority of Africans live in rural areas. Therefore, we’re looking for a development model that is suited to African cultures and ways of life. In the US, if you earn $25,000 per year, you are poor. In Africa, earning this amount makes you rich. It is not compulsory for us to copy existing models. As for our projects, we have a skills shortage in several sectors, for example, in agriculture, where we lack scientific expertise. Africa’s economic transformation will entail an agricultural revolution, which we want make into a pioneering sector, most notably by developing clean energies. We must also develop tourism by creating a common AU passport, to enable companies and individuals to travel inside the continent.

We are also beginning to see an increase in the potential for tourism, including for Africans. It’s difficult at the moment, because there are numerous problems with air travel. For example, to get to Cotonou, or to Cameroon from Western Africa, you have to go via Paris. We are supporting the Yamoussoukro Decision for open skies. This is one of the objectives for the AfroChampions Club – to become an influential force in encouraging people to innovate. We are pushing to achieve this. Free movement of people will invigorate the potential for tourism, and also the movement of goods. We must bring down barriers in order to take full advantage of the trading potential.

We are also considering how an advertising industry, and a fashion and design industry could be created. Africa can develop its potential in fashion, culture and music. This is not just rhetoric. That’s why creating the Globalizer Index report was the first thing to be done. We have to identify ourselves first – champions exist! We are not trying to give them a value that they already have, but rather to create an ecosystem that will allow them to proliferate. Champions are emerging African multinationals. n

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