Maria Auma: Visiting Rwanda – My seat at the table with Africa’s policy makers
Being invited to attend the ACET inaugural Africa Transformation Forum was somewhat of an honour for me. It was a chance to mingle with key policy decision makers in Africa’s rich continent, from institutions like the IMF, AU and World Bank to NGOs like USAID and Ministry parastatals, who painted clearer pictures enabling us to better understand the direction that Africa’s economy would be heading in the next decade. The different forums that went into considerable depth to discuss key issues relating to mining and manufacturing, agriculture modernisation, youth and skills and renewable energy and financing touched the heart of the matter and went a long way to educate and enlighten us delegates on how to best re-strategize our own internal growth plans.
Among the delegates sharing my table were companies from South Africa’s agricultural space, Kenya’s import-export sector, UK’s youth and empowerment space, Rwanda’s legal sector, Ghana’s oil and gas representatives. There were charged debates on whether Africa should follow set economic models from neighbouring continents as benchmarks for her growth and development or course her own path towards those goals.
What struck home was the diversity of intelligent minds that convened to participate in the dialogue of transforming Africa’s future. The event was honoured by H.E. President Paul Kagame’s key note speech which inspired a standing ovation. To quote; “transformational change happens at the level of mind-sets”.
Lunch was a match made in heaven, having the pleasure to dine with a World Bank regional head, and cocktails were rich networking sessions with a sip of the right alcohol and bites combined discussing multi-cultural complexities and intra-continental development paradoxes with United Nations representatives and some international media observers.
One of the plenary discussions centred on financial inclusion in the context of SMEs. It became apparent to us that there is still a lot the continent needs to do to support the informal sector. On top of that SMEs always face the access to finance challenges from institutions like banks. An interesting solution was fronted by one of the panellists – using movable assets such as cows as collateral to unlock finance. Of course, there are a lot of questions raised regarding valuation and tracking with this type of model, but it is effectively employed in the import-export business.
Another thought provoking comment was the observation that majority of youths who start businesses in their twenties in Africa are much less likely to be successful than a 35 or 40 year old entrepreneur. While there is much truth to this observation, there are some exceptions. This could also point out the deficiencies in our education system that may not be doing enough to groom future leaders and entrepreneurs. One of the ways suggested to curb this problem was to encourage youth mentorship by older more mature and successful entrepreneurs.
Mr. Claver Gatete, the Minister of Finance and Development, chaired the closing session with such honour. There were some glowing remarks regarding Rwanda’s recent success towards sustainable development. As the conference wound to a stop Mr. K.Y. Amoako, President of ACET, ably summarised the two day event into a call to action.