Lessons from Kigali

“African leaders must promote and encourage economic and political collaboration regionally and across the continent.”

April 2019 // Johannesburg

A recent trip to Rwanda for the 7th Africa CEO Forum in Kigali was a real eye-opener for me in many ways.

As the city of Kigali prepared for the commemorative events to mark the 25th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi, I arrived in the city that I was visiting for the very first time. My arrival at the airport was smooth and efficient, and everywhere I went I was met with warm and friendly smiles. The streets are spotlessly clean, with not even a piece of paper in sight, and it really made me admire the courageous people of Rwanda for their tenacity of spirit, and their incredible willingness to transform their city and create a vision for the future, so very different from their traumatic past. It did make me think of how we, as South Africans, could learn from the people of Rwanda in finding ways to work together to improve the lives for all South Africans.

Back to the conference…

The 7th Africa CEO Forum

I was very lucky to attend the 7th Africa CEO Forum – it was a space for learning, growing and opening ourselves up to new ideas and innovation. There were close to 1800 delegates from across the continent, including Head of States of Rwanda, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).   Discussion topics ranged from digital innovation, to tourism as the next growth frontier, and women in business and finance, among numerous other fascinating and relevant topics.

President Paul Kagame delivered the key opening address. He, honestly, spoke more like a businessman than a head of state. He stressed the importance of the political will for regional and continental economic integration through the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) to enable Africa’s economic potential to be realised. He also stressed the importance of adopting a long-term view towards the development of the continent.  I could sense that he is determined to transform Rwanda into a regional powerhouse and build bridges and bring people together. And in the little time I spent experiencing what is happening in Kigali, even I realised that he is well on track to do just that. It is important to note that Rwanda has earned a reputation as one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, with annual economic growth of over 7% since 2000.

In his closing remarks with the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, he stressed the importance of doing away with regional conflicts and differences and instead focusing on building an Africa that serves its people.

Some interesting stats about Africa

There were some interesting stats that came out during the conference, and I’d like to share some of these with you.

Africa’s nominal GDP is currently $2-trillion dollars. With 1.3-billion citizens, the continent houses 16.64% of the global population, but contributes only about 4% to the global GDP. Africa is endowed with a young population that represents about 50% of the population, with a median age of 19.4 years and, of course, with minerals resources, fertile land, natural beauty, etc.


Given all that is going for the continent, why does it feel like we are moving slowly in addressing high levels of poverty and inequality?


They call it a “youth bulge”, something that is common in developing countries, according to The World Bank, and basically means a vast share of the population is comprised of children and younger adults. This is happening all over the continent and could have some rather drastic outcomes if none of our youth can get jobs.

One has to ask why the continent is not creating the 1.4-million monthly jobs that the IFC representative said this continent needed to drastically reduce high levels of unemployment, especially among the youth.

I have my own views on the topic, and I’d love yours too if you wish to interact with us on Facebook, Twitter or the WDBIH blog:

Six key motivators for positive change

  1. We need stronger political will from African leaders to address barriers to economic development and regional integration.  African leaders must promote and encourage economic and political collaboration regionally and across the continent.
  2. Education is a critical success factor. The education systems must be disrupted to allow the youth to play a meaningful role in shaping the economic future of the continent – for example, there must be greater emphasis on teaching entrepreneurship, problem-solving and coding in schools as early as possible.
  3. Innovation and use of technology to transform the continent. Africa must come up with concrete plans and policies to support the adoption and use of technology to fast-track economic growth and to solve social challenges (access to healthcare services, education, etc.).  There are pockets of success on the continent, such as Nairobi, Cape Town, etc. Much more needs to be done, though, in creating linkages within the regions and continent, investing in innovation hubs and creating linkages with countries outside Africa to allow African innovations to be exported to other countries and vice versa. 
  4. Inclusive growth. My favourite subject, of course, is the role of women in driving economic growth. I was pleased to see a dedicated focus and discussions on issues of women in leadership and on boards and the financial inclusion of female entrepreneurs. The conference emphasised the central role that women must play to ensure that the growth is inclusive and that more than half of the population is not left behind.
  5. The recently launched Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) must be executed as a matter of urgency as it will accelerate Africa’s economic growth and development. Capital allocation and investment must be directed not just toward infrastructure development, which is critical in enabling investment, but also to sectors such as tourism, agro-processing, healthcare and education, as these sectors can create sustainable jobs.

The Africa CEO Conference shed light on so many issues and it also made me aware of the calibre of CEOs and leaders that we have on the ground in our various countries. I think these kinds of platforms are very significant in putting our heads together and learning from each other – taking heed of our successes and our failures – and collaborating to not only make our own companies, businesses and countries stronger, but also to benefit the entire continent.

I am looking forward to being a shaper and a positive contributor towards the development of business in Africa. And if I ever lose the faith, or the will to push forward in making a difference, I will look to Rwanda as a great teacher. As citizens look back and continue to acknowledge their painful past in a way that empowers their future, I for one stand in awe of this country and its people and their willingness to embrace the prosperity they deserve.

Kigali, I will return.


Faith Khanyile