We Need Economic

“We Need Economic Freedom First”

Established in 2009 with 35 founding national chambers to be the main business advocacy organization in Africa, the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PACCI), is the most representative business organization in the continent. The Chamber held its annual general assembly meeting in Addis Ababa on November 28 and 29 2013 to discuss about the establishment of a continental free trade area in 2017. In this interview, Amanyehun R. Sisay, executive editor and Mikias Merhatsidk, editor-in-chief of Ethiopian Business Review, discuss, with Seth Adjei Baah, President of Ghana’s National Chamber of Commerce and Industry and President of PACCI, discusses issues about the state of affairs of the chamber, challenges of doing business in Africa, and Labour Mobility in the continent, among others. Excerpt:

EBR: What is the biggest achievement of PACCI since its establishment in 2009?
Seth Adjei Baah: The biggest achievement is the awareness it helped to create that we need to bring the private sector in many countries together to the benefit of Africa. Only Africans can develop Africa. That happens only when we are able to integrate; only when we are able to gather our resources; only when we are able to say that we are an African.

Do you think this could be possible in present day Africa, where labour mobility, is a very serious challenge to do Business?
It’s a challenge; but it has to start from somewhere as a thousand mile distance starts with a step. It’s better to start it today than not to start at all. We know at this time that labour mobility is a challenge in this content.

Do you think African Countries can adapt common passport in light of the fact that the level of economic development of different countries vary; For instance South Africa described as a promised land where many would like to flow to the country and there are countries obviously such as Ethiopia, whose citizens migrate significantly to countries where there are better economic opportunities. And apparently countries like South Africa do have to protect their domestic interests. With such scenario, do you think African politicians can resort to a single passport in the near future?
Let me tell this; do you think South Africans want to protect their domestic interest forever? We should be able to give out something. I know South Africa is having a programme to support the rest of Africa. If South Africa becomes the light, it is obvious that every African wants to go to the country; and we get a challenge then. So it’s good for us to be able to develop the various groups so that we are able to hold hands above our challenges. Even those we think they are not doing well; it’s just because they are not able to put themselves together. There are a lot of wonderful resources in Africa. Go to Congo, there were those sad days and with the population of not higher than 40 million they have natural resources that can be used to light Africa? We really have a lot of wonderful resources that we can develop together. And we really can do that. Otherwise, people naturally move to places of better opportunities and we can’t stop that. We should think that we are rather one people as Africans; it is just the geographical machine that our colonial masters put between us which separated us. Take Ghana and Togo for example, we speak the same language. If we go to Ivory Coast we made the same kind of food. But our colonial Masters divided us. The same holds to other African countries; and we have to rise above these challenges.

In this Conference you stated that Africa will be the next heaven; can you elaborate that please?
I am more than confident that Africa is on the rise. If you look out raw materials and natural resources, which country can surpass Africa? If it is Gold; the place for the best Gold is in South Africa. If it is Diamond, then it is Botswana; talking about timber, talking about bamboo, talking about fish, oil, all resources we need are abundantly available in Africa; that makes us the next heaven. So we have to put our effort together to develop our natural resources to the benefit of all Africans.

At the moment, we don’t have the money and technology to develop our resources and create wealth alone; But if we decide to think that we are African and develop the interest of its people, then we can do together what each country couldn’t do alone. You may see the oil contracts that African nations have with their colonial masters. None of them have 25Pct share of their wealth. We have been doing that for long while we can develop and share our resources together.

First of all; why would an Algerian share its natural gas to a Central African Citizen?
We have got to understand that we are one people. It is a matter of understanding that will put Africa together. Guess what the difference between Ghanaian and Nigerian is; the only thing might be the language. So why do we see each other at how the colonial masters are trying to divide us. If you come to Ghana today, you will see many Nigerians there because of the peace and stability in the country. From Ghana to Nigeria it is a 45 minutes flight. What are you are talking about! we are one people. That is why we need to put our resources together to the benefit of all Africans.

PACCI is claimed to be the mouth for more than 500,000 businesses in the continent, making it the biggest and most representative group in Africa; how do these numerous establishments involve in the decision making process?
We have a bottom-up approach. We have the national chambers that draw their decision making powers from their members.

We believe that the private sector is the engine of the growth of every country. So without a private sector no government can ensure sustainable development. The private sector creates employment, generates business and wealth. If at the end of it, governments absorb us into their systems, then definitely we will be able to contribute to the development of the continent. So we encourage chambers to be strong in every country. If they have any challenge they come to their regional blocks and then to PACCI.

But some of the leaders of national chambers, in some countries, are chosen by the government rather than by their members. Talking about such cases, there may be complacency.
We should not expect all to be equal. We know that there are so many differences within countries. In some countries, the leaders of national chambers are being appointed by governments.

Recent discourse in Africa by the international media has shifted from describing the Africa as the hopeless continent to Africa is rising; does this narration reflect the continent’s business atmosphere too?
Why are Chinese coming to Africa? Why are Indians coming to Africa? They are all coming to Africa. Everybody’s attention is on Africa. This is because there are certainly good things in Africa.

Most of them are basically after the primary products, the minerals, so what changed after the colonialists left the continent?
They know that this is where they get resources. Still 90Pct the continent export is primary products, basically minerals, gold, diamonds and others. This is because we are not adding value to it. Now we are saying that if we want to export cocoa, then we need to get companies who can add value to it and export chocolate instead. It is a process and that should start from somewhere.

So you agree with the narration that Africa is rising; there are 300 million middle income class even though people with two dollar and 200 dollar a day are put together into that?
Yeah; I believe that. We have a bright future ahead. We only need to work and go together.

Do you think the private sector in the continent is ready to take Africa to this development?
The private sector in any country can contribute to that if the government in that country is ready to collaborate. We need a public private partnership, to be able to move to that destination because it is government that makes the private sector. If they give us an enabling environment then the private sector can effectively contribute to that. It all depends on the kind of public private partnership.

But there is this thing in Africa that when the private sector gets stronger and stronger, it either has to work as per the direction of the ruling elites or it just get to be perceived as a political threat by governments.
It is a perception; we want to change this, we want to make sure that we move out there.
If we are private sector people, lets keep up to that. Let me tell you this; I have been in the private sector and I have contested for a seat in the parliament of Ghana. When political parties knew I was running for parliament, they just approached me so that I join their party. But I refused and run as an independent candidate. But I have decided not to run for parliament anymore because I want to concentrate more with the private sector, which is the engine of growth. Without the private sector, we can’t make it.

PACCI claims to work on deepening market integration in the continent; what achievements has it made so far in this regard?
We have been working to remove barriers to trade in Africa. Some blocks have been removed as a result of PACCI’s activities. For instance, traders in Ghana can easily send goods to Togo. Although we have a lot to do, we have achieved something. We have also worked in areas of creating awareness on the need to come together as African and realize our potentials. In fact this is the greatest achievement PACCI has made so far.

Let’s talk about the institutional capacity of PACCI to implement the various programmes it has; I know it has financial limitations even to run its secretariate. And it usually depends on donors. Is there a different scenario now?
We might have a challenge but we don’t have serious problems as such. We are private sector organizations; we are never poor. I would say the Chamber’s financial condition is sound.

From the discussion we have, I understand that most of the things you want to see done in Africa particularly integrating the different economies depend on the political will of heads of states and down the line; can you elaborate the things you do in this area with particular reference to your relations with the African Union?
We work with the African Union closely. Even for the organization of this conference, AU supported PACCI with 400,000 USD. If there is no collaboration, how would they put their money? We also work with many heads of states in the continent.

What is the single most problem in Africa,challenging business?
I would say the biggest problem is lack of integration; the lack of abilities for instance to easily move goods and resources from one country to the other. This is really a critical problem.

Once the PACCI head quarters moved from Cairo to Addis Ababa; how is your relation with the Egyptian chamber?
We need Egypt. It is a very important country in Africa. It is a matter of negotiation. We have setup a committee led by Morocco to look at that issue and bring Egypt back to the Chamber. We need Africans together.

You have been a business man and also a politician; where do you think African vision lies in delivering economic prosperity first then political freedom or the other way round?
It is economic prosperity first. When economic prosperity is achieved, no body would think about political freedom. People are making noises, because they are poor. When you are economically free, you don’t think about who is the president because you have something to live on; We need economic liberation; economic freedom first. EBR

2nd Year • December 2013 • No 10


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