#ACF2023: Collaboration and talent in the private-public sector

Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith

Global Courant

If there’s one thing Africa hopes to be in abundance in a few years from now, it’s a huge and resilient youth population waiting to be fully utilized. Africa currently accounts for 19% of the global youth population and is also expected to account for 40% of the world works population by 2030. However, as numbers continue to rise, there is so much stakeholders and governments need to do to strategically position their youth for both local and global relevance if the continent is to reach its full potential and face the future with its ‘champions of sovereignty’. Public-private partnerships must be approached pragmatically and realistically, as must adequate integration of young people in governance at all levels.

During the opening panel of the 2023 African CEO Forum, theme From 300 to 3000: today creating the champions of tomorrow’s sovereignty, critical conversations about the role of government and private investors in creating the environment that would enable the growth of a resilient and impactful youth population were addressed. According to insights from the forum, Africa has nearly 300 companies with sales in excess of $1 billion compared to 2,700 in Europe and 3,300 in Asia. These companies play an important role in strengthening strategic autonomy and increasing resilience, as seen with Pfizer in the United States during the Covid crisis and Eni in Italy during the gas crisis.

High Level Panelists at #ACF2023 Forum Panel Theme: From 300 to 3,000: Creating Tomorrow’s Sovereignty Champions Today.

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But the fact remains that African countries must create their champions in agribusiness, energy, digital technology and other key sectors, based on their comparative advantage. The question then is: how can the public and private sectors boost high-performing African multinationals through government strategies, partnerships and regional value chains? This is where there needs to be a balance between what the continent has as a public-private partnership in theory and reality.

Promoting engagement in the public-private sector

One of the biggest challenges involved in promoting public-private partnerships on the continent compared to what is available elsewhere in America or Europe is the problem of systemic bottlenecks. A situation in which agreements are made between key private sector players and government-appointed officials, such as technical advisers (civil servants), who do not necessarily have the power to create or activate policies recommended by high-level mandates or presented projects. In the long run, the months of hard work by private companies, consulted by the government, have run into an obstacle because they are sometimes unable to directly advise policymakers.

“In most African countries there is a need for direct involvement between the private sector and the state,” said Colins Mukete, chairman and CEO of Spectrum Group. “There is a need for cooperation between both sides, as this would allow them to advise the state on the sectors they need to open up a bit more.” Once these bottlenecks are removed, the continent will most likely feel the impact of such collaborations on its youth population.

Again, to advance the development of modern private champions for Africa’s future, stakeholders need the vision to capitalize on the opportunities the continent offers. “We need a pragmatic and realistic vision of what needs to happen in the public and private sector space,” said Sergio Pimenta, Vice President for Africa, IFC. “IFC is the private arm of the World Bank Group and we have seen increased recognition of the role of the private sector in recent decades. But the development of the private-public sector that Africa is pursuing will not take place in a vacuum. But in the context of the kind of public policy that allows the private sector to come in.”

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Promote youth involvement in governance

African youth are largely under-represented in government. This trickles down to making and enforcing policies that haven’t been screened through the lens of their demographics. While African leaders continue to advocate for youth involvement, the political environment never really encourages it. Across the continent, young Africans would love to be part of the governing process, but the mess and complexity of politics would rather keep them away from it.

“Your system is only as good as the people who run it. So your state is only as effective as the quality of the people in it. Talents must flow up to the government so that we can develop African champions,” said Monica Geingos, First Lady of Namibia. “Our most complex problems as a continent, political, social or economic, are solved by government. We have all our best brains in government to some extent. Not in all areas. So if we want to build African champions we also need good coaches and that is the integration of the skills gap that you find in the public sector. According to the Namibian First Lady, there is an obligation on the government to solve some of the political issues that create the messiness sometimes found in government.

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#ACF2023: Collaboration and talent in the private-public sector

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