[Column]Chinelo Anohu: Change Africa’s narrative through partnerships and investment
Africans should reject the status quo view of their continent and work with the private sector, governments and development partners to take advantage of its immense opportunities, said the Africa Investment Forum’s Senior Director Chinelo Anohu.
Anohu was delivering the keynote speech to open the 2023 Africa Futures Symposium, organized by the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School’s Lauder Institute in Philadelphia, USA.
The Lauder Institute was founded in 1983 by Ronald Lauder and his brother Leonard, the heirs to the Estée Lauder cosmetics company. The Lauder Institute incorporates an Africa Program that prepares students to lead Africa-focused conversations in today’s global economy.
Ronald Lauder has been a supporter of Africa’s development and prosperity. In 2015 he co-founded Alta Semper, a private equity firm that has invested over $150m in market-leading healthcare companies in Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda.
The theme of the 2023 symposium, Shifting Narratives, reflects a broader move to recast Africa as an attractive investment destination offering high returns.
It is also in line with the objectives of the Africa Investment Forum, a flagship initiative of the African Development Bank and seven founding partners, that advances private and public partnership transactions across Africa to financial closure.
“The narrative on Africa has to change through partnerships, investment, not aid, and engagement in a manner that is edifying to the continent,” Anohu said. “We must adopt a symbiotic approach, a collaborative effort with the private sector, public institutions and individuals to yield impactful results.”
Anohu commended the United States for its continued commitment to Africa and specifically the Africa Investment Forum. The Forum and the United States Trade and Development Agency jointly hosted an event last July for 40 women leaders at the forefront of sustainable infrastructure in Africa and have consummated a Memorandum of Understanding in relation to financing Eligible Transactions in targeted sectors, for feasibility studies and transaction advisory services to project sponsors. This collaboration has already resulted in project preparation funding for one of the women led projects on the AIF platform.
She said the Africa Investment Forum’s flagship Market Days event, to be held in November 2023, will bring together international deal sponsors, investors and government leaders to access transactions that are ready to progress toward closure.
Projects featured at the 2022 Market Days event, held last November, drew $31 billion in investment interest from African and global investors. The rescheduled 2021 Market Days event, which took place in March 2022 mobilized an additional $32.8 billion of investor interest for a total of $63.8 billion during that calendar year.
Following Anohu’s keynote speech, Namibia’s Ambassador to the US, Margaret Mensah-Williams, joined Akunna Cook, founder and chief executive officer of Next Narrative Africa; and Okendo Lewis-Gayle, founder and chairman of Harambeans; to discuss what is on the horizon for Africa.
Lewis-Gayle noted signs that the behavior of global actors toward Africa was changing, observing that senior representatives of the U.S., Russia and China had all visited African countries in 2023.
Cook explained that she founded Next Narrative to counter Western media’s depiction of Africa as primitive, risky and in need of aid.
“If we don’t replace those images with different images…the impact is that really important investments are not going to the continent and really important partnerships are not’ being formed on the continent,” she said.
Dr. Regina Abrami, Director of Lauder’s Global Program opened the second day of the symposium. It brought together academics, and business and government leaders to discuss topics that included Africa’s demographic dividend, and the respective roles of the digital economy and the diaspora in Africa’s development.
Other speakers included Deniece Laurent-Mantey, a special advisor on U.S-Africa Leaders Summit Implementation at the U.S. State Department and Dr. Guevera Yao, Executive Director for Africa, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
While in the U.S., Senior Director Anohu took part in bilateral meetings with several business leaders and institutional investors.