• INTERVIEW « Africa Meetings, an enormous logistic, technical and human challenge »

INTERVIEW « Africa Meetings, an enormous logistic, technical and human challenge »

The Africa Meetings will be held from 2 to 6 October. A manifestation wanted as a partnership between French and African companies. And for the second edition, the event will take place in three cities in the continent:  Abidjan, Tunis and Nairobi. In this interview, General Commissioner, Marc Hoffmeister, tells us the whole story.

After a first edition, a year ago in Paris,  Africa Meetings come back with a major innovation: they will be held in Africa. A request from African partners? 

When he left Africa last year, Daniel Kablan Duncan, who at the time was Prime Minister of  Ivory Coast, now Vice-President of the country, told us “you cannot say that you made a meeting between France and Africa without coming to Africa “. He had spent just two days on our event, meeting business leaders and economic figures; we took up the challenge and we promised him to think about his suggestion. By joining our partners, everyone was willing to try the adventure. So we left last December to hold the Africa Meetings in Africa. But Africa is large! We decided to make three demonstrations in a week of intense mobilization of French and African business leaders. We opted for Abidjan for West Africa, Nairobi in Kenya for East Africa and Tunis for North Africa. An enormous logistic, technical and human challenge. It is the most important economic event ever organized in  the African continent. More than 300 French leaders will travel and more than 2000 African leaders, spread over the different stages of the event.

The vocation of this forum is precisely to rethink the Franco-African partnership. For the past year, what actions have been taken in view of this renewal?

First of all we designed the event totally as a partnership. African authorities and actors are equally involved in the design of the event and in the choice of themes. We have been meeting for six months on steering committees in each of the countries. We have therefore listened to Africa and have not imposed our views and concepts. By integrating many initiatives of our partners. For example, Africa France has designed an innovative operation to be launched on the occasion of the “Young leaders” event. 20 young African leaders with strong potential to which the association will open the doors of all the most closed business … Proparco decided to celebrate its 40th anniversary in Africa in Abidjan …

How was the choice of the three cities, Abidjan, Tunis and Nairobi, to host the meetings? Tunis, rather than Casablanca, was questioning. Knowing that Moroccans already have their own event, the Africa Development Forum organised by Attijariwafa, they may not want to be associated with this competing project in a certain way … 

While the choice of Abidjan was made in a natural way in response to the Ivorian invitation, the other cities were the subject of a choice resulting from a survey of visitors in 2016. The results were successful to this choice, namely Abidjan, Nairobi and Tunis. It must be said that Morocco already attracts many events; it is no longer a discovery for many companies.

In Tunis, you invited Tunisian public and private partners to join their counterparts to conquer new markets in  the continent. How can we be allies without being competitors? The question arises in particular for Moroccans, who have become the first foreign investors in French-speaking Africa, thus supplanting France … 

I deeply believe in this Europe-Africa partnership, first of all because of what I see as an entrepreneur and through the companies we support in our investment fund or through our accelerator. The complementarity is real with the countries of the Maghreb and it is from this that we penetrate the African markets. Sometimes for very mercantile reasons: to counter the Chinese offers, one must be able to do things in  a lower cost and the countries of the Maghreb make us gain this competitiveness. Sometimes for relational and multicultural reasons: we do not say the same things between French and Africans and between the Maghrebians and Africans.

As for Nairobi, a more strategic choice, France is more interested in positioning itself in East Africa where Nairobi plays the role of a hub. Not that simplicity… 

Yes we have a lot to do in East Africa where we are not expected, and the position of Kenya as a hub is quite adequate. The Kenyan response to the event was very good, especially from the Kenyan employers, the Kepsa which has been very involved. This will be the first time that so many French companies will travel to Kenya and this is a good sign of our companies’ appetite to grow in the area.

Would not the political situation in the country hinder the progress of the meeting? 

Not in any case. The country is calm, we have confidence in the democratic process.

Kenya shows a very nice environment for investors and French companies that have projects. The timing is perfect, because we are before the presidential elections which as you know have been invalidated and we can welcome the Kenyan maturity whose democratic tradition is recent. I do not think there is anything to fear for the business in the coming weeks, generally, it is the opinion of the French authorities. 

Concretely, what are your expectations for this second edition? 

We expect concrete outlets in terms of commercial partnerships between French and African entrepreneurs. The primary mission of Africa Meetings is to generate business for the participating entrepreneurs! The event also aims to create a practical ecosystem facilitating access to African markets through the mobilization of all our partners and exhibitors. Finally, we want to raise awareness and mobilize on subjects that are crucial for the future of the continent, such as training, sustainable cities, agriculture, digital technology and health. 

What’s new  next year, back in France?

Yes, we will be back in France next year where we will be holding the third edition of the Africa Meetings in early October 2018, which will be an exceptional event with many innovations …

Interview by the editorial staff in Paris.

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