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Shift to a continental mindset needed to make AfCFTA a success, says Gabby Otchere-Darko

Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, Senior partner and founder of Africa Legal Associates.

Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, Senior partner and founder of Africa Legal Associates.

The executive chairman of the Africa Prosperity Network (APN) and senior partner at the Africa Legal Associates (ALA), Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, has called on Africans to shift their mindset from the narrow confines of the borders set mainly by their colonisers and see themselves as part of an integrating Africa.

Speaking at the 30th Annual Meeting of the Afreximbank, the man behind the annual Africa Prosperity Dialogues, said for the aspirations of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement to be fully realised businesses, including traders, in Africa must see it as self-serving, own it and drive it. This, he stressed, requires an urgent and sincere shift in the mindset of Africans.

Describing AfCFTA as a game-changer, the corporate lawyer, Mr Otchere-Darko, highlighted conflicts between some domestic protection policies and the continental and regional protocols promoting free trade across member states.

He made the observation during a panel discussion on day one of the 30th Afreximbank Annual Meetings (AAM 2023) in Ghana at the Accra International Conference Centre (AICC) from Sunday 18 to 21 of June 2023.

Panel members

The panel which was moderated by Ms Lukwesa Burak, News anchor at BBC News, also had John Olajide, founder and CEO of AXXESS and chairman of Carvista Holdings.

The other panel members where Adam Molai, chairman of TRT Investments, Rosa Whitaker, president and CEO of The Whitaker Group, and Arunma Oteh, chairperson of Veritas UK Asset Management and member of the Global Leadership Council.

Continental mindset

The main theme of the AAM 2023, is; “Delivering the Vision, Building Prosperity for Africans”. However, the panel discussion focused on the sub theme; “Delivering the Vision – Corporate Perspectives”.

“If we say we are going to have free movement of people, goods and services and yet, Ghanaian traders will cry foul if Nigerians come and establish shops here [in Ghana], then we have a problem. Of course, we see that in South Africa as well. Yes, [AfCFTA] is promising but there is also a mindset. How do we see ourselves?

“When you are in Europe; they don’t necessarily ask which part of the African continent you are from. When you are black, wherever you are, so long as the continent remains where it is, you will not be respected, I am sorry, that is how it is,” Mr Otchere-Darko said.

“So, we should begin to see the whole as a big chunk of ours, that we are part of the whole, that Africa’s destiny and prosperity are linked to our individual well-being and that our individual well-being is linked to the prosperity of Africa as a whole.

“Do we see ourselves as Africans first and do we see it as an advantage because it is an advantage if we see ourselves beyond the borders. Those borders were not done by our ancestors, in most cases, they were not” the APN executive chairman further stated.

Deploying Africa’s wealth

In her submission, Ms Arunma Oteh asked heads of state, governments and policies makers to deploy Africa’s wealth on the continent. She added that the continent has got to identify some major projects (AfCFTA projects) that it can do in order to open the continent up for free movement of goods and services.

“Africa’s wealth needs to be deployed in Africa. Whether it’s pensions wealth, individual wealth, we are deploying it through low returning instruments around the world when the opportunities are on the continent. Long term financing is still absent from the continent [and that has to change]” Ms Arunma Oteh said.

Underserved continent

On his part, Mr John Olajide said there was no better place for an investor to go than Africa. He pointed out that the African continent is extremely under-served in every area and that should make Africa every entrepreneur’s dream location to invest his or her money.

He further indicated that businesses are supposed to be seen by their owners as a force for good wherever they are located. To this end, he is of the considered opinion that investors should be ready to take a little cut in their profits as they invest if those cuts will amount to the good of society.

“There is so much opportunity in Africa because it (Africa) is incredibly underserved. Africa is underserved in every category; Africa is the entrepreneur’s dream.

“I wish I had invested in Africa a long time ago and so in the past year, we have deployed tens of millions of dollars of our own capital, all cash, on the continent” Mr Olajide said.

“If the return on my investment will be 10% when I put the capital in and take it out, will I take 9% or 8% or 7% to see society thrive, yes. I believe business is a force for good and so beyond the profits, businesses should make societies better” the founder and CEO of AXXESS added.

Demographic dividend

Mrs Rosa Whitaker, president and CEO of The Whitaker Group posed a question on the current population situation in Africa and what it should mean for the continent.

She indicated that Africa’s population who will be in their prime in 27 years’ time will be more than the populations of China, India and the whole of Europe combined and the continent must take advantage of that, rather than see it as a problem.

“Africa has an incredible demographic dividend. Today as we sit here, one in every three children born in the world is African.

“By 2050, Africa will have more people at working age and in their primes than China, Europe and India combined.

“So, will this be a demographic dividend or will it be a demographic disaster, that is the question today” Mrs Rosa Whitaker said.

Reporting by Wilberforce Asare in Accra

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