African Union Commission chairman Jean Ping says this week's forum in Gabon presented an attractive platform for investors interested in Africa.
Ping said the New York Forum Africa enabled investors to learn more about Africa, as well as to engage decision-makers across the continent. Ping’s comments came Sunday, shortly after the official conclusion of the first Pan-African three-day conference in the Gabonese Capital, Libreville.
The conference “brought a certain number of investors from all over the world to come and know the continent and the country, to see the facility we are giving to them in terms of security, in terms of political governance, in terms of securing the private investment, in terms of…fighting against corruption,” said Ping.
“They have to know the continent better, and you can be sure that such event helps, [them] to know and to understand,” he added. “And also for us to interact with them and to see what are their needs.”
Ping underscored the need for investors to focus on Africa’s huge green energy potential, which he said is the way to the future.
He said some international investors have asked for AU cooperation in growing the continent’s under-developed green economy, a move he said gives him hope.
“For the first time, we received a mandate from the heads of state to create the team which would help Africa to speak with one voice, one message, with a clear request on the international stage,” Ping said.
“It is clear that Africa does not pollute,” he added, “but due to the continent’s fragility, the consequences of the pollution of the rest of the world - in terms of flood, in terms of famine - affects us more. So, we have to fight against climate change, and we are ready to move straight into green economy.”
“But we need two things. First, we need the technology, and second, is the money. So we are telling this to our partners that we are in the same boat. If the boat sinks, all of us will sink. So, we are ready to play our part of the game. Since we have a number of certain facilities, help us to move into green economy. It will be useful for Africa and it will be useful to the rest of the world.”
Observers have often urged the African Union to promote investment by providing an environment to attract investors from across Africa and around the world.
But some analysts say too much of the AU’s limited time and resources are pushed into resolving conflicts, which they say leaves very little time to create a business-friendly environment.
Ping said the two goals – stability and investment – actually go hand in hand.
“You can’t have sustainable investment without peace and vice versa, so we have to promote peace on the continent. And if you take a look 10 years back, you will see the tremendous progress that we have made on the continent in terms of pacification and the security on the continent. And you can see today, that investors are coming,” said Ping.
He cited two articles in The Economist: one, a decade ago, argued that Africa is a hopeless continent. More recently, a different article in the same magazine referred to an “Africa rising.”
“We came from a pessimistic era to a more optimistic time. This is good for the continent,” Ping said. “But we have to continue to improve peace and security, [and] to improve good governance. We are fighting for the rule of law, fighting against corruption, fighting for human rights in order to help our member states to comply with these things [and] to promote a friendly climate of business.”
Critics cite the ongoing conflict in Somalia, the tension between Ethiopia and Eritrea, as well as the recent government overthrows in Mali and Guinea Bissau, saying they show the African Union is ineffective in resolving conflicts.
But AU Commission Chairman Ping said the AU has made significant strides to ensure pace and stability, despite challenges.
He said the AU has created an architecture aimed at preventing future crises, which he said is “better than a cure.”
“So we have a structure with an early warning signal in order to prevent crises. And there are a number of crises, which I think we have succeeded in preventing,” Ping said.
“But when the crisis occurs, we have to try to cure it first of all peacefully. We use force when all other means have been exhausted. We also try to solve them by [imposing] sanctions, targeted sanctions, sometimes general sanctions if need be, in order to discourage these types of things.”
Ping said the continental body always plans for post-conflict situations to prevent a resurgence.
“Otherwise a country can fall again into it and it’s generally costly and dangerous. So we have to prevent the country from falling again into conflict by developing the economy, by developing social affairs programs, promoting human social development…education, health etc.”
Ping said the African Union commission has asked for more authority and money to improve its effectiveness in resolving challenges.
“There are many proposals…going to that direction, asking our member states to give us more money and power, because you know that we are in Somalia, but the money comes from Europe and the United Nations. And we can’t sustain such a program, if we do not receive these kinds of assistance,” he said.
African Union election
The African Union chose to extend Jean Ping’s mandate in January, after an election for the post ended in deadlock at their summit in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. He was hotly challenged by South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
A committee heads of state has been set up to find a solution to resolving the deadlock ahead of the next summit.
Ping said he was disappointed in what he called “the unfortunate tactics” employed by the South Africans to block the extension of his mandate.
“My opponents are blocking the election,” he said. “It’s a stupid game, because we have to find a solution.”
He expressed confidence in the rising African continent. He also called for a united Africa.
“We want Africa to be like the other continents, free from fear and free from wants. If we succeed there, we would accomplish one of our missions. But we realize that you can’t reach those objectives if you go by yourself. It is impossible that one African country big or small can be listened to by the rest of the world. But collectively, it’s impossible to ignore our voice.”