Dr Akinwumi Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), has called for Canadian business to be more proactive in exploring commercial opportunities in Africa.
Adesina delivered this advice to a conference of 80 representatives at the Canada-Africa Chamber of Business. This meeting in Toronto marked an attempt by the AfDB to champion business opportunities that will be presented at the bank's inaugural Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg in November. Adesina's insistence that Canada should 'seize investment opportunities' in Africa is part of a concerted effort to bring business to the continent.
'A springboard for African economic transformation'
One of the key themes driving Adesina's presidency is a transition from seeking aid to seeking investment from outside of the continent. The AfDB have adopted five key policies in a bid to secure that required investment. The New Deal on Energy for Africa is a drive to provide universal access to energy across the continent. The AfDB are also working to improve the quality of agriculture, industry, trade and technology. To fund these developments, attracting overseas investment is imperative. Adesina's hope is that businesses from across the globe will realise the mutually beneficial outcomes that will arise from investment at this pivotal stage.
The official website of the Africa Investment Forum asserts the AfDB's intentions to provide a 'springboard for African economic transformation' through what will be a premier investment marketplace. By bridging the gap between governments and the private sector, the aim of the AIF is to facilitate and accelerate private sector investments. While the AIF only runs from November 7 to November 9, the hope is that its positive ramifications will endure beyond the forum. Adesina has been keen to make overtures to economies such as Canada's. By getting businesses to the table at the AIF, the AfDB's aspirations are that investors will quickly realise the economic potential of the continent.
So far, North American and European governments and businesses alike have been slow to respond to Africa's growing financial success. Trade between China and Africa reached $170 billion in 2017, over $100 billion greater than the trade between the US and Africa. The same report references how the United Nations predict that the world's ten fastest-growing cities between 2018 and 2035 will all be African. 2018 is a propitious time for investment opportunities in Africa, and the AIF could have consequences that are substantial both in terms of timeframe and geographical reach. It is Adesina's hope that this reach will extend as far as Canada.
Taking Canadian trade to new places
Adesina is not the first to champion the exploration of business links between Canada and Africa. In 2017, Nola Kianza, the CEO of the Canadian Council on Africa, toured the country to make overtures to politicians and businesspeople in the hope of generating interest in investment. Canadian businesses have previously been reticent to explore new avenues of investment. This has caused Canadian trade to be heavily skewed towards the US, with deals between the North American neighbours accounting for 80% of Canada's trade.
This is what prompted Kianza to travel Canada to advocate the benefits of investment in Africa. These benefits extend to all parties, with the trade increasing prosperity in previously underutilised markets. The time difference between Africa and Canada allows for an extension of the business day. If a Canadian business were to open a satellite branch in an African nation, business hours would be prolonged as the two locations could transfer work seamlessly. Canada has supported African business in recent years, contributing over $300 million to the African Development Fund between 2014-2016. Yet now may be the ideal time for a different kind of investment that serves to grow African industries while opening new avenues for Canadian businesses.
Sharing expertise across continents
Some people have expressed concerns over how productive a relationship between Canada and African can be, citing the disparity between the most popular industries in each location. Yet a look at the most popular industries in Canada reveals a large scope for a positive relationship with African business, especially when considering the five key areas that the AfDB are focusing on. The production and exporting of energy are among Canada's strengths, so there is a lot of expertise at the very least that can be shared with the aim of furthering the New Deal on Energy for Africa.
Many of Canada's fastest-growing companies specialise in software development, which aligns with the AfDB's call to expand the development of technology in Africa. This strength in software extends into the market of online casinos, with 888 Casino Canada offering over 100 online slot games and attracting more than 25 million members since its inception in 1997. A strength in this Canadian industry may prove difficult to translate to Africa immediately, but the hope of the AIF is that it establishes links that facilitate the sharing of knowledge and resources in the decades to come.
Canada and many African countries hold similarities in their dependence on mining and the development of natural resources. This similarity should foster productive talks at the AIF if Adesina has proved successful in inspiring Canadian businesses to take action. Even if Canada and African nations are not trading resources between one another, the sharing of expertise when it comes to unearthing and exporting resources can be beneficial for all parties in the years ahead.
Businesses in Canada encounter similar problems to those in Africa. Industries often congregate in relatively small areas, creating logistical issues with transporting products and services. The growth of many African cities is a fillip for the continent, but Adesina is seeking measures that benefit the whole continent. Canada can be influential in this process. With its history of humanitarian involvement in countries such as Zimbabwe, the AfDB will be hoping that the time has come for Canada and Africa to become closely linked once again. Yet, rather than aid being the driving factor, the hope is that Canada can help usher in a time of rapid and substantial industrial development across Africa.