"Participation Builds Unity"





Dianna Games
22 DECEMBER 2003


THE private sector has a lot to say about the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), but it is far less forthcoming when asked exactly what role it wants to play in implementing it.

This message emerged from a recent African private sector conference in Johannesburg.

The perception of Nepad as a somewhat amorphous entity with long lists of projects, little money and fewer plans on the table appears to be the dominant view in the private sector.

However, what is the private sector, listed by Nepad as its engine of growth, doing about it?

The gap between rhetoric and action has been duly noted. The African Union (AU), United Nations (UN), Nepad secretariat and the private sector umbrella body, the Nepad Business Group, are formulating a strategy to ensure that business is represented at the highest structures of power in Africa.

The drive was given new impetus at the recent Mobilising the Private Sector in Support of Nepad conference hosted by the business group, whose membership embraces international and African business organisations .

The event was attended by, among others, AU chairman Alpha Konare; Prof Ibrahim Gambari, UN undersecretary and special adviser on Africa to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan; Bamanga Tukur, executive president of the African Business Round Table and Nepad Business Group chairman; international members of the group; Nepad secretariat members and heads of South African, Kenyan and Nigerian Nepad business groups.

Konare was invited to put the weight of the AU, hitherto rather quiet on the issue, behind engagement with the private sector. More progressive than his predecessors, he gave a very clear message that Africa would not move forward without the private sector.

Aid and handouts, he said, had not helped development and it was imperative that Africans made more effort to build and mobilise their own resources. The AU had, in the past few months, created special instruments for economic growth through Nepad. The partnership was creating a programme to stimulate stability and growth in the private sector and to find ways of ensuring the security of investment. A broad-based tripartite African Compact, involving the public sector, private sector and Nepad was proposed.

On the sidelines of the conference, a meeting was convened of top decision makers, including Konare, Gambari and others, at which agreement was reached for the establishment of a private sector panel to act as the primary link between organisations such as the UN, AU, Nepad secretariat, the Nepad business groups, and business bodies.

The panel will include representation from obvious stakeholders as well as international business and multilateral organisations. It is hoped the structure will be set up early next year.

In most parts of Africa, the private sector is weak, and organised business is fragmented and offers little value.

A serious challenge is to get business to unite and speak with one voice from a common platform. In public forums everyone agrees this is a good thing but privately, large and powerful businesses are reluctant to make sacrifices to this end.

Private business in most African countries is still characterised by self-interest and empire-building. The operating environment for business has generally been poor with governments facing no strong private sector lobbies, except on an individual basis with "special deals" for business people.

The Pan African Employers Organisation lacks capacity and effectiveness. The African Business Round Table, an initiative of the African Development Bank, is also weak despite the fact that its membership includes top African businesses outside SA. It is undergoing major restructuring to equip it better to play the leading role it has in the Nepad Business Group.

Several regional business organisations exist but are also ineffective, despite the fact member countries might be well organised internally.

These bodies must be bolstered to provide effective representation across Africa, to link into Nepad and other development processes. The private sector needs to have proper channels of communication with Nepad to play a proper role.

The Nepad secretariat recently appointed acting round table secretary-general Yusuf Turundu as its private sector co-ordinator. He has been mandated to make contact with organised business on the continent to understand what they do and how their role can be co-ordinated through the secretariat.

The goal of the umbrella Nepad Business Group is to have an association in each African country but this seems a long way off as many are still trying to find out what Nepad is and what they can get out of it. The lack of political buy-in presents a constraint to business buyin, which has been aggravated by a lack of tangible results and data.

The focus is too wide projects and priorities need to be narrowed to more achievable targets. Of concern is how to bring small and medium enterprises into the fold.

It is crucial that public-private partnerships be created, not just for projects and development, but also because the private sector needs to push African governments to remove considerable impediments to doing business on the continent. Governments have a preponderance for focusing debate on issues such as global trading environment inequalities rather than tackling problems in their own back yards.

Business needs to be clear and forceful about what it needs and what it can do to help the development of Africa. There are many new channels of communication opening up and if the private sector does not start engaging directly now, it will have only itself to blame when nothing changes.

Games is director of Africa@Work, a publishing and conference company which organised the recently held Nepad Business Group conference on the private sector.









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