Lucia Iipumbu (Minister of Industrialisation and Trade) participated in the recent Annual Investment Meeting (AIM) at the concluding Expo 2020 in Dubai (United Arab Emirates). The AIM pedestal served to share best practices on the means of promoting economic development in Africa through entrepreneurship and innovation.
Additionally, on an elevated gantry, a panel of experts addressed the challenges faced by African entrepreneurs/investors in developing joint investments and business partnerships with counterparts from the Arab Region. The side event further aimed to develop a collaborative action plan towards ensuring resilient African entrepreneurs and promoting domestic investment for leveraging foreign direct investment, in the backdrop of the 4th digital revolution through creating and unleashing entrepreneurship and MSME growth. Hon. Iipumbu also participated in more panel discussions on pillars relevant to Industrialisation and Trade.
Responding to what concrete measures need to be put in place to facilitate joint investments and business partnerships between Africa, the Arab region and the world in general, how SMEs could benefit from those measures, Hon. Iipumbu said, there is a need for the establishment of the investment facilitation framework between Africa and the rest of the world to encourage targeted investments in areas such as innovation, value chains development, and value addition to unlock opportunities, especially for SMEs.
International expositions such as Expo 2020 Dubai and other Investment Forums allow for engagements between African & Arab private sectors and governments, regional economic communities, chambers of commerce, current and potential, international organisations and multilateral agencies, investment promotion agencies, leading international and local media, and business councils to exploring business opportunities, challenges to attracting greater investment and overcoming barriers to investment between the African and Arab region.
These forums must also deliberate on modalities to forge sustainable partnerships to enhance trade and investment relations between the two sides, to the mutual benefit of both. To support Africa’s development priorities such as the development of infrastructure, adding value to raw materials, regional integration, capacity building and human resources development.
Namibia convenes annual national expositions and trade fairs across the country aimed at creating opportunities between our indigenous market entrepreneurs with foreign businesses. This further creates opportunities to expose products and services of MSMEs and establish smart partnerships with established entities.
One good example is that Namibia has several binational forums to promote bilateral and regional value chains development and investments. I suggest that the Africa-Arab Economic Forum, which has witnessed its second iteration in 2021, be expanded with regional fraternities so that we can have for example a SACU/SADC Arab Economic Forum. Such an approach will provide a platform that will delve deeper into actual investment opportunities for collaboration and cooperation. Whilst the Continental Economic Forum will prioritise policy collaborations and partnerships, the regional engagements should focus much more on the actual realisation of investment opportunities or strengthening existing ones such as Namibia’s export of dates to these shores.
In terms of MSME development, it has become imperative that any economic partnership should have a special focus on ensuring requisite clauses that can mainstream opportunities for small businesses. Thus, any continental economic forum or my proposed regional forums should carry explicit clauses in their founding statements that pivot procurement, skills development, technological exchange and transfer opportunities to MSMEs. The immersion of MSME chamber of commerce in such regional forums is also key as their voice tends to be stifled if we do not guard against their exclusion-as we all know national chambers at times tend to be dominated by larger entities. Thus, a specific focus should be on ensuring MSMEs inclusion through their associations. To this matter, I must also add that founding statements must also reflect not only on MSMEs but also special focus on women and youth and the informal economy. Both Africa and the Arab world have what they call the Youth Bulge’ an increasing number of young people making up the overall population. It is, therefore, imperative that attention and facilitation of entrepreneurial opportunities are provided to these segments of our societies.
The Harambee II
Finally, the economic advancement pillar of our Harambee Prosperity Plan II (HPP2), our flagship national policy document has prioritised partnership with the private sector to create an MSME Fund with four components namely interventions include the Credit Guarantee Scheme, the Mentoring and Coaching Programme, Skills Based Lending Facility and the Venture Capital Fund consolidated with a diversified source of funding. Government has engaged relevant partners with a record of accomplishment in sourcing funding from the private financial sector as a viable means to meet the empowerment legislation provisions related to enterprise and supplier development for the financial sector. The implementation strategy will be championed by the Namibian Investment Promotion and Development Board and supported by the Development Bank of Namibia. Namibia’s Growth at Home Strategy also plays a crucial in accelerating industrialisation and economic growth.
Continental free trade
Meanwhile, Iipumbu responded to a question about how AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) could be a real opportunity. In her reply, she stated that the African Continental Free Trade Area presents a major opportunity to businesses given its vast market size of about 1.3 billion people and combined GDP of US$3.4 trillion.
She continued that in fact, the AfCFTA is the largest FTA established since the inception of the WTO. The Phase negotiations of the AfCFTA agreement are ongoing and investment facilitation will form part of the agreement, it is, therefore, important to ensure that it caters for the facilitation of joint investments and business partnerships between Africa, the Arab region and the rest of the world. The African Ministers responsible for Trade in January this Year, Afrixim Bank and the AfCFTA Secretariat launched the PAN African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS) in Accra, Ghana aimed to enable payment for intra Africa trade in national currencies thereby reducing the foreign currencies transfer costs and further time for cross border payments. Therefore, PAPSS is envisaged to boost intra Africa trade significantly.
* Elijah Mukubonda is the Chief Information Officer in the Ministry of Industrialisation and Trade