Addis Ababa – Terrorism has not scared investors and business from coming to Africa, but ebola has had a negative effect.
Paul Hinks, chairman of the Unites States’ Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) board of directors, said they were worried about the impact the terrorist attacks in Paris, Mali and Burkina Faso would have on this week’s US-Africa Business Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“It is telling that there are 1 200 people at this conference, and that should answer the question on how much terrorism and security is affecting business in Africa.
“People have voted with their feet coming to this conference,” he told journalists at a briefing on Tuesday morning, before the start of the three-day conference.
US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who also attended the weekend African Union summit here, however, said security in Africa still presented a challenge to business.
“We are pleased the AU has taken on those challenges. Can they do more and better, and can we do more and better? The answer is ‘yes’,” she said.
In response to a separate question, she said ebola had scared investors away but the American government was working with the AU to help build a capacity to respond quickly to epidemics. “This won’t be the last epidemic to occur on the continent, so we are prepared for that kind of thing to happen in future.”
One of the big hindrances though to doing business on the continent was getting finance, President and CEO of CCA, Stephen Hayes, said.
“Each country is a different case but it is one of the challenges in most of Africa,” he said.
The development of infrastructure like transport and IT systems was also crucial. Hayes said: “Our membership represent about 50% of small business, but what they all have in common is that they need larger markets.”
He said if they could cross borders their business would change.
Hayes also said the lack of electricity also hampered business. But US President Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative, which aims to bring more electricity infrastructure to African countries, would help. “You can’t have development if you don’t have a power supply,” Hayes said.
Thomas-Greenfield added that more human resources were needed to do the job, “people who are trained, people who are educated, who can take on responsibilities that can go with a larger infrastructure. That is a challenge (African) countries experience across the board.”
She said even though a country like Ethiopia had a good education system, in some countries these were failing. She said the Americans could help with technical training.
The Americans also said they saw a place for China in the development of Africa.
Hayes said “China’s entry has helped a great deal, it has made a difference.”
He added that, although this difference was positive, “the need is so great that not one country can meet all the needs”.
Hayes said the styles of countries differed, and the US saw its biggest role in the training of the workforce.
Chinese business with Africa has been growing and it was extensively discussed at the China-Africa summit in December last year in South Africa. One of the drawcards for many African governments to doing business with the Chinese was that Chinese business and finance had fewer conditions attached.
Hinks said although the US government could do a lot to improve its style of business, it was a “two-way thing. Africa must do its side to improve things. It is not easy to get business off the ground in Africa. It is a partnership and both sides need to make things work,” he said.