By Kelechi Deca
African leaders were given a wake-up call at the 7th Babacar Ndiaye Lecture on October 14, 2023, held at the Fairmont Royal Palm Hotel in Marrakech, Morocco.
The lecture, organized by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) during the 2023 IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings and themed “The New World Order and the Future of Entrepreneurship in Africa,” was delivered by Prof. Jim Clifton, chairman of the globally renowned polling and analytics firm, Gallup.
Prof. Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Bank’s Board of Directors, highlighted the evolving global trade landscape, particularly the slowdown of globalization, particularly as Africa benefits from China’s rising wages.
Indeed, global trade surged from $2 trillion in 2000 to $24 trillion in 2022, largely due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the emergence of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and China’s economic growth.
Prof. Oramah criticized globalization for its uneven benefits and backlash, citing its tendency to leave many behind and skepticism among western populations and political leaders.
The discontent of displaced “Blue Collar” workers in the West led to unprecedented political consequences, resulting in anti-globalization sentiments and movements across most Western economies, he said.
Oramah contends that the “golden age of entrepreneurship” has ended due to adverse currents, including halted foreign investment, restricted technology transfers, re-emerged trade barriers, and increased risks for developing businesses.
Indeed, the current challenges facing Africa require the continent to prepare for a new era.
Oramah argued that globalization, which alleviated poverty in China, has exacerbated global issues at a time when Africa was anticipated to benefit.
He emphasized that businesses can explore new investment destinations either domestically or internationally.
“What of Africa? What must we do to attract these investments in Africa?” Oramah queried as he introduced Clifton as someone with the expertise to help address these questions.
Prof. Clifton told a packed audience at the annual lecture in honour of Afreximbank’s founding father, Babacar Ndiaye, that Africa needs a system to identify and nurture entrepreneurial talent, ensuring flawless execution of good ideas.
During his lecture, he emphasized the global issue of declining economic growth as a significant concern.
Prof. Clifton stated that numerous countries are prioritizing innovation and investing in systems to enhance growth and achieve their growth objectives. He argued that establishing businesses is the most effective approach, as it fosters innovation and stimulates economic activity.
“There are a lot of innovations, but they have no value unless a customer is willing to pay for them,” he stressed.
Clifton emphasized the need to differentiate between academic talent and the ability to generate ideas from entrepreneurship, which necessitates a distinct set of skills.
“We have to understand that while innovation is really important, if we have a system to support and grow entrepreneurs or rainmakers, everything will change,” he said.
Clifton predicted a global economic failure, predicting a $200 trillion failure in the next generation at a 3% rate. To achieve a 4.5% growth rate and reach $300 trillion, a comprehensive understanding of innovation and entrepreneurship is essential.
“We have to understand that it’s a cart and a horse situation, and I would suggest to you that the cart is innovation and the horse is entrepreneurship, and we have to get really good with the horse,” he said.
Clifton suggests Africa has 7.5 million entrepreneurial potential but finding them is challenging. He proposes a “dragnet” to identify and support these individuals.
Africa’s talent and potential for global business growth are abundant, but unlocking the human spirit is a challenge due to inadequate efforts to utilize the continent’s resources, he said.
Dr. Hippolyte Fofack, Afreximbank’s chief economist, highlighted the vital role of entrepreneurs in Africa’s economic growth, stating that despite abundant labour and resources, more capital and entrepreneurship are required for production.
“Entrepreneurship is one of the most important drivers of growth in both developed and developing countries. But I would argue that it is even more critical in Africa, where it is not a choice but a necessity,” he argued.
“It takes an ocean of entrepreneurs to develop a continent and entrepreneurial governments to effectively facilitate and coordinate their actions, as we have heard tonight,” he added.
Dr. Fofack praised Afreximbank’s initiatives, such as the Fund for Export Development in Africa and Creative Africa Nexus, which promote entrepreneurship and small businesses in Africa.