With 2019 barely two weeks off, and talk of new beginnings all in the air, Egypt looks forward not only to starting fresh ventures, but also to revisiting and fortifying old roots. Egypt embraces the prospect of assuming the presidency of the African Union in 2019, a task the country’s leadership appears keen on. As though in confirmation, Cairo has witnessed three African events this week in which the Dark Continent shone.
Policy of openness
On 8 and 9 December, the South Sinai Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh hosted “Africa 2018 Forum”, under the auspices of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and with participation of a number of African leaders from COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) countries. COMESA countries include Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Participating in the forum were the presidents of Gambia, Niger, Rwanda, Togo and Zimbabwe, a number of premiers and ministers, in addition to 2,000 businessmen, investors and high-level figures in the field of business.
President Sisi gave the opening speech at the forum, stressing Egypt’s keenness on promoting a policy of openness to its sisterly African countries.
“Security and stability are the bases for development and addressing political and economic challenges in Africa,” the President said. “We need cross-border joint investments, especially in infrastructure, renewable energy, and telecommunication and information technology. We aspire to achieve those goals through joint effort under the umbrella of the African Union.”
“Reforms must match citizens’ needs and the era’s demands,” President Sisi explained. “Development must flow into airports, roads, seaports, urban areas, electricity grids, energy, water and wastewater facilities and networks, in addition to technology and new industries and services related to the digital economy. Reforms must be compatible with international efforts to combat climate change, reduce emissions, and preserve our planet.”
“We invite investors from all over the world to seize the promising opportunities in Africa,” the President said. The opportunity, he said, meant that young people and women ought to be empowered to do their bits, emphasising the need to eliminate violence against women in the continent.
President Sisi announced the establishment of a fund to insure against risks for Egyptian businessmen willing to invest in Africa.
Lion’s share held by foreigners
It is sadly obvious that Africans have been slow to benefit from the opportunity that opens up in their continent.
According to Heba Salama, CEO of COMESA Regional Investment Agency (RIA): “The lion share of investment in the African continent is held by foreigners. This means that there are numerous opportunities we Africans never make use of. As Africans, we have still not sufficiently collaborated together or opened proper communication channels,”
“The variety and diversity we have in our continent is amazing,” Ms Salama said. “We have 3,000 ethnicities and 2,000 languages but, at the same time, we share a number of values in common, such as family closeness and union, as well as the many offspring who are turning into ambitious and innovative youth ready to lead us into the future.”
For a bright future to unfold, however, Ms Salama reminded that we need to empower a huge force that may be largely dormant: women. “Africa has throughout its history boasted queens and female freedom warriors who fought for their peoples. Queen Hatshepsut, the fifth pharaoh of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, who reigned for 20 years from 1478BC to 1458BC, extended Egyptian trade into Africa, to what is today Somalia, and was moreover a prolific builder. Her reign was one famous for peace and prosperity.
Modern-day Egypt has seen the first two female governors; and they have proved to be visionary and competent; whereas today’s Ethiopia boasts 50 per cent female representation in parliament. Ms Salama hails this as Africa on the right path. She said Africa should promptly move ahead and take advantage of African cohesion. “This is the main reason we are here today,” she said.
First major contract
On the sidelines of the forum, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli attended the signing ceremony of a financing contract between the Egyptian Carbon Holding Company and the African Finance Corporation (AFC), to partly finance the USD10.9 billion petrochemical complex in Ain Sukhna on the Red Sea Gulf of Suez.
The petrochemical complex is the largest in the Middle East region and is expected to create 48,000 jobs.
The signing ceremony was attended by Sahar Nasr, Egyptian Minister of Investment and International Cooperation; and Mohab Mameish, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority and President of the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone).
Chairman of Carbon Holding Company, Basil al-Baz, said that a total USD5.4 billion in funding had been secured from various sources, and that residential quarters would soon be built to house an estimated 35,000 of the workforce.
The forum’s closing ceremony was attended by a large number of ministers, high-level Egyptian and African officials, as well as experts and specialists in the economic field. Most of the attendees were young people coming from different African countries.
Addressing the forum’s closing session, Dr Nasr announced a six-recommendation list. The list included activating measures to stimulate capital flow through applying risk mitigation mechanisms across the continent, boosting African investment cooperation with development partners, and financing institutions and investment banks in accordance with the continent’s agenda.
It also recommended activating public private partnership (PPP), especially in the domains of infrastructure, networking and information technology, transport and renewable energy projects.
Africa 2018 Forum called for taking advantage of technological development tools, industrial intelligence, digital transformation, as well as large information and data systems to serve development efforts.
It also urged continuing women and youth empowerment initiatives, supporting entrepreneurship, small and medium-sized enterprises and vocational training programmes, completing anti-corruption policies and entrenching good governance principles.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry delivered the closing speech in the forum. Mr Shoukry described Africa 2018 Forum as a “Shining Beacon” on Africa’s events agenda.
“This year witnesses historic steps in support of intra-African trade and investment,” Mr Shoukry said, “including the launch of the African Free Trade Area (AFTA), scheduled to go into operation in 2019, as well as an active Egyptian role aiming to support continental economic integration.”
“Egypt will make major efforts during its 2019 presidency of the African Union to mobilise collective African efforts,” he added, “and to activate the necessary mechanisms needed to soundly address challenges hampering the continent’s development process, including armed conflicts, political crises, proliferation of terrorist groups and organised criminal gangs, illegal migration, high rates of refugees and internally displaced people.
“This should also work to enhance investment opportunities to meet the 2063 development agenda,” he noted.
Shoukry said it was vital for African countries to achieve stability in order to create an investment-friendly climate and attract businessmen.
Welcome, fellow Africans
A day following the conclusion of Africa Forum, Cairo hosted IATF, the Intra-African Trade Fair. Organised by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) under the auspices of President Sisi, the first of its kind trade show in Africa provided a seven-day platform for sharing trade, investment and market information, offering buyers and sellers the opportunity to meet, discuss, and conclude business deals. Studies by Afreximbank had revealed that among the main reasons intra-African trade stood at a meagre 15 per cent—compared to African trade with Europe at 59 per cent, Asia at 51 per cent, and North America at 37 per cent—owed to lack of access to trade information. IATF thus came to rectify deficiency. Participating in the fair were industrialists and traders from various domains: the agricultural, automotive, clothing, textile, construction, creative industries, education, energy, engineering, health care, heavy industries, ICT, logistics, mining, fisheries, warehousing, and others.
Concurrently taking place in Cairo was the fourth edition of the “Food Africa 2018” show. The show was opened by Egypt’s Minister of Supply and Internal Trade, Ali al-Moselhi on 8 December, on an area of 10,000 metres, with the participation of more than 300 manufacturers and exhibitors from 32 countries. Among them, 55 per cent were Egyptian and 45 per cent foreign.
According to Mr Moselhi, the three previous editions of the exhibition contributed to making it one of the most important fairs in the food sector on the Arab and African levels.
Featuring an extensive four-day showcase, Food Africa provided a premier meeting place for food and beverage industry wholesalers, distributors, retailers and professionals where deals and agreements were made.
Food Africa Conference hosted a series of inspiring sessions on production, pre-processing, international requirements of quality and food safety, trade with Africa, investments and opportunities in the food sector as well as other important industry related topics.
In addition to assembling a group of international buyers and procurement agencies interested in doing business with Egyptian exporters, the match making and B2B sessions alongside Food Africa exhibition allowed a wider exposure to relevant Egyptian institutions such as those supporting the date and herbs industry in Egypt.
With all the above events in mind, and in an attempt to grant fellow Africans preferential treatment, Cairo Airport authorities specified during December a special, separate passage for incoming passengers arriving from African Union countries. The aim was to facilitate their entry procedures, and give them a special welcome message from Egypt.
Reported by Iman Shawqy, Lillian Nabil, Fady Labib, Nariman Yanni, Mariam Adly, Amany Ayed, Michael Girgis
12 December 2018