Between the 8th and 9th of March, the Saïd Business school hosted the annual Oxford Africa Business Forum. The Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholarships and Leadership Programme supported four current and two alumni students to attend the auspicious event. It was two days packed with inspiring African leaders in business, entrepreneurship and international development. In between speeches there was not a moment short of thought-provoking discussions among attendants and a few mini-debates on the topics of the day. My greatest lesson, was realising my own potential in the amazing delegates presented before me. Below, I give a brief description of the highlights of the day.
The forum begun with a powerful opening keynote by Cameroonian Professor Landry Singe. His profile includes being the youngest to rise to professorship at Stanford University, being the World Economic Forums young Global leader and even a contribution to the Black Panther movie. In his talk, Professor Landry called the continent and its youth to action. He spoke about the need for Africa’s continental free trade and outlined strategies for the agreements implementation. First, is to negotiate intellectual property and protocols for the trade of good. Second, is to have countries agree on the objectives of the protocols, which should promote and facilitate competition legislatures. His last strategy was implementation of the policies proposed for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
The Oxford Africa Business Forum hosted panel discussions with teams of about 5 business leaders on the continent in each title. ‘Rebooting the Sleeping Giant’, was a discussion on the case for a continental free trade agreement with one speaker stating, ‘It takes more resources to block free trade, than to allow it’. ‘Upgrading the operating system’, was a discussion on equity banking and entrepreneurship. The panel noted challenges in raising capital and discussed solutions like market diversification and in-country re-investment as is practice in countries like Botswana.
The ‘Branding the African narrative’ was a discussion on marketing in Africa. I was impressed with South Africas approach to tourism marketing which is targeted to selling specific customer-experiences as opposed to a location.
Dr Vera Songwe, executive secretary for the UN economic commission for Africa, gave an astounding closing speech which focused on the African Free Trade Agreement. She stated that the continent has not been able to trade well within itself and that the proposed trade agreement would improve quality, diversification and sophistication of trade in Africa. Trading within Africa could increase employment and improve the economic empowerment of women in the informal sector especially in border areas. Dr Songwe described in great statistical detail, how the African Continental Free Trade Agreement would provide an enabling environment for digital platforms and private sector business. She concluded with expressing her understanding of reservations made by large economies like South Africa and Nigeria. She then explained that on-going consultations will improve the agreement in the hopes for endorsement by more countries by July this year.
Through the Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Leadership and Scholarship programme, I am learning about entrepreneurship and having practical experience through our enterprise challenges. As an African, the Oxford Africa Business forum has given me the perspective on the future of my role in this space. It is exciting to see the contributions to the continent that these amazing leaders are making and I hope to be among them some day.