It was the second edition of the international conference organized by the Netherlands African Business Council (NABC) and the African Studies Centre (ASC). It brought together companies, NGOs, knowledge institutions and policymakers around the main theme: Creating new partnerships. I was there, representing URAIDE and meeting the international African-development-cooperation community for the first time.
The first thing that impressed me was the amount of people from African countries attending the conference: ambassadors, businessmen, academics and politicians. I realized that ‘development cooperation’ is no longer a case from north to south. No, the African countries represented in Leiden were showing their independency, their willingness to cooperate and their drive to change from merely accepting aid towards building trade relationships.
Create New Partnerships
The word ‘cooperation’ says already what it should be about. About joining forces and working together,. This, to my vision is exactly what the different speeches at the conference brought across. We were inspired and called to create new partnerships. The opening speeches at the start of both days were held by key politicians, businesspeople and ambassadors. They were entirely different in content and perspectives and still at the end they all came to same conclusion: we need to work together. The positivism was all around and ‘creating new partnerships’ was the keyword. Each contributor interpreted this from their own perspective or need. The Dutch government for example, wants to become a main broker in the field, facilitating the building of new partnerships and offering grants from the Dutch Good Growth Fund. Applicants should comply to the requirement of joining several stakeholders as partners to work together in one project, each one with a share in the price and the risks. Many African politicians and ambassadors showed their willingness to initiate and support new businesses, showing many opportunities available in several countries.”Traditional” development cooperation countries as Ethiopia and Kenya, indicated their ability to continue to be strong partners, also in business. At the other hand, countries as Liberia and South Sudan, with a long history of war and more recently, dealing with the Ebola crisis, were also noticeably present.
Paradise on Earth
The most inspiring speech came from the former Minister of Gender of South Sudan, who presented South Sudan as: “being the paradise on earth, with land in abundance, sun and water as presents from God. “ With those resources, they will be able to produce the best coffee, the best grains, the best honey, the best wood, the best animal products and have the most sustainable fisheries in the world. According to the former Minister, most production is even being done on an organic way, suitable for the European market. Later on she admitted that the reason for organic production as a main method was mainly due to lack of resources and of knowledge to apply other technologies. She also gave some crucial do’s and don’ts that potential investors in Africa should take into account. An important do: gaining trust through open community consultations and working through the governments An important don’t: Don’t make promises you cannot achieve.
Africa Works! Is an inspiring title, it is positively placed and it brings to me an image of a continent that has proven to be worthwhile investing in. And now it wants to go further, creating more trade and being a reliable partner, within the continent but also to the rest of the world. There are so many opportunities, so much land seemingly available, so many people willing to work, willing to fight against poverty and hunger and willing to make business work. I could be sceptical about it, be critical on the way things have worked or not so far. I will keep it to myself, because I believe that a positive message is what is needed now to evolve, to set aside the differences and join forces to make Africa work in the nearby future as well.
There is even more to tell about the different workshops I attended. About inclusive business, farming as a business and value chain development; or about the different people I spoke with, but I will keep that for another time. For now, I would like to conclude with an old African saying I heard during the conference: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This summarizes the topics of the conference. Now it is time to put it into practice.