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Secretary General calls for commitment to rebranding the African continent

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Address by the Secretary-General of the ACP Group of States, H.E. Dr. Patrick Gomes, on the occasion of the Rebranding Africa Forum 2016 
 
13 October 2016, Brussels
 
Your Excellency, President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, President of Burkina Faso, 
Rt. Honourable Charles Michel, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Belgium,
Honourable Ministers,
Distinguished Representatives of regional and international institutions,
Your Excellencies, the Ambassadors,
Distinguished Guests,
 
Two years ago, forward thinking Africans from the diaspora decided to launch the cycle of yearly conferences of the Rebranding Africa Forum. As those who preceded me, I would also like to congratulate Mr Thierry Hot, his partners and team for a valuable initiative. 
 
The theme this year is on Meeting the challenges of industrialisation in Africa. It perfectly echoes the subject of the latest Economic Report on Africa released six months ago by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa which was the Greening Africa's industrialization. Noting that the Executive Secretary of UNECA is present and will speak right immediately after me, may I defer to him, as he will speak with authority and give details on the Conditions for a sustainable industrialization of African Countries.  Taking into account today's reality of fight against Climate change, it will be a greening strategy. I would also add the need for "Bluing" the industrialization of our developing Countries, as we need to explore new frontiers, especially those of the Blue economy. I know Executive Secretary Carlos Lopes and the UNECA are playing a leading role on this. 
 
I turn to some specific areas the ACP is addressing.  The ACP Group has developed a Private Sector strategy which focuses on empowering the Youth and the Women, especially in the youngest continent which is Africa, with about 60% of the population being under 20 years old. We are working on designing models and mechanisms which would enable the largest number of entrepreneurs, generally in the urban informal or agricultural sector to benefit from a more enabling business environment, accede to affordable and predictable financing. With this, we aim at densifying our economies, building regional value chains and support the development of companies which can become regional champions. 
 
This is in our view, at the core of Rebranding the African continent. Rebranding is to develop a new, differentiated identity in the minds of clients, investors and other stakeholders. This generally involves radical changes, principally in terms of image to show a distance from negative connotations of the previous brand.
 
One need nevertheless to approach the exercise with dexterity. Indeed, it has been revealed that in recent years, the practice of nation branding has attracted growing interest from academic researchers and gained prominence among communications and marketing practitioners. We share a view with those who affirm that a development strategy based on identity-building, public diplomacy and public affairs is more to improve Africa’s image globally and her competitiveness while also preserving its rich, complex and diverse heritage.
 
It is often said that any entity needs to determine what constitutes its DNA. Rebranding Africa then should mean to identify what best echoes how Africans defines Africa, how Africans want Africa to be seen, what in everybody's mind should remind of Africa. Engaging into this process means that Africa, collectively, agrees to decide on the path it will be moving on and the direction to take.
 
Perhaps we can listen to a proverb of the late Chinua Achebe who said an interviewer in 1994 "— that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. That did not come to me until much later. Once I realized that, I had to be a writer. I had to be that historian. It’s not one man’s job. It’s not one person’s job. But it is something we have to do, so that the story of the hunt will also reflect the agony, the travail — the bravery, even, of the lions". 
 
How does this fit into our effort today to rebrand Africa? We look around today and can see Africa being clearly "hunted" by everyone because of the recognized gigantic potential of the continent. But so far how is Africa writing its story? How is the continent branding itself? What we are seeing is just everybody partnering with Africa; but shouldn't it be rather Africa partnering with the others to serves its own objectives?
 
In the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States we aim to be a living testimony of the capability of African leaders to decide on their own path and direction. Some 41 years ago, countries in Africa were able to partner with likeminded countries to form the ACP Group. Then together, African, Caribbean and Pacific faced the then European Economic Community to negotiate to their advantage better trade conditions for their products. We admire how today Africa is reinventing itself through a similar exercise?
 
This is evident by the leaders of continental Africa adopting Agenda 2063, that calls on all African to determine the future we want for Africa. We need to congratulate the African Union Commission for this achievement which we believe is a bold step of a process towards ensuring that this vision is the peoples’ vision. Economic Growth will certainly make the continent more attractive but will not be sufficient to Rebrand Africa. 
 
To Rebrand Africa, a new leadership is rising, capable of taking bold decisions, with the empowerment of the largest number of citizens ready to be committed. 
 
We see this reflected in how using the potential of existing institutions can also be important to change the face and perception of an Economy. 
 
I am referring to the radical change brought into a national economy by the recently appointed African Development Bank President, Dr Akinwumi Adesina. In a partnership with the Central Bank of Nigeria, using better the resources at disposal for that institution, he managed to transform the rules that enable greater investment in agriculture. As a result, in as short a period as 4 years the amount invested in agriculture in Nigeria by commercial banks has grown from 0.5% to 7%. Those are the kind of change of which Africa is capable. And when we know that the contribution of investment in agriculture to poverty reduction is two and a half times higher than in any other sector, we can anticipate the impact of such action.
This reinforces the importance to empower ourselves and be the ones who set our own. But when we call for action we need to be pragmatic, certainly optimistic, but reasonably optimistic. It is perhaps good to consider what St Francis of Assisi recommends: “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” 
 
We do not need to challenge the entire world. We mainly need to commit to the better for the poorest and gear all actions towards that. Then very quickly, we would have achieved what appeared impossible. We would have brought to reality the Africa we want to be proud of. 
 
But are we ready and committed today to rebranding Africa? Are we, comfortable today in calling for investment in Africa? We need to give ourselves the necessary comfort. With a continent which is the youngest, having witnessed the creativity of that youth, every hope is allowed. Let us confidently say: Africa is ready.
 
Mr President,
Rt. Honourable Prime Minister,
Honourable Ministers,
Distinguished guests,
 
The ACP Group will not spare any effort to see a new and stronger Africa emerge. To this our founders were committed. We need effort and imagination, and courage, too, so that tomorrow we could transform the threats we are facing today, into assets that could serve as the basis for empowerment and sustainable development. 
 
I thank you for your attention.
 
Dr. Patrick I. Gomes
ACP Secretary General
 


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