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'Change is imminent': African CEOs look to bright future

By Mariéme Jamme, Special to CNN
updated 11:07 AM EST, Fri November 23, 2012
Ecobank Group chief executive officer Thierry Tanoh at the Africa CEO Forum in Geneva.
Ecobank Group chief executive officer Thierry Tanoh at the Africa CEO Forum in Geneva.
  • Mariéme Jamme attended the first Africa CEO Forum in Geneva
  • World Bank's Makhtar Diop called for private sector bosses to show leadership
  • "We are witnessing great progress in the continent and this needs to be highlighted," says Jamme
  • Jamme says business leaders need start working together to develop Africa

Editor's note: Senegalese-Born Mariéme Jamme is an African technology blogger, coordinator of Apps4Africa and CEO of Spotone Global Solutions. Follow Marieme Jamme on Twitter: @mjamme

Geneva, Switzerland (CNN) -- Sitting at the first Africa CEO Forum this week, in the heart of Geneva, I asked myself if this was the right time to open the debate on Africa's private sector future. Was Geneva the right place? Critics will rightly argue that this sort of event should have been held in Africa.

Over two intensive days, top African chief executive officers shared with attendees from all over the Africa, Europe and Asia, some latest trends and best practices, discussed the future of the continent's private sector, and received awards and accolades.

Speakers such as the outspoken Sudanese-born billionaire Mo Ibrahim tried to boost the narratives of Africa's position compared to China and India but with little solutions to offer. When I asked him why the event was not held in Accra or Johannesburg, Ibrahim replied by stating that the reasons were more infrastructural and logistical than anything else.

Marieme Jamme
Marieme Jamme

Paul Collier (Oxford University), Makhtar Diop (World Bank's Vice President for Africa), and Donald Kaberuka (chairman of the African Development Bank) also sent some very strong messages to African CEOs by reminding them to promote Africa's private sector.

Diop said: "This CEO Forum reminds us that Africa needs its business leaders as never before -- to help it generate more electricity, grow more food, and create more jobs to keep growing strongly, while also improving people's well-being through less poverty, better health and education, and more hope."

Out of Africa and into business

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Despite the positive kick-off, the conference saw the presence of few women CEOs and panelists, which demonstrated the need to push African women into the board room. However, women like Rwandan Valentine Rugwabiza (WTO) and Wendy Luhabe from the Women Private Equity Fund, made their voices strongly heard. Lubabe stressed the need for challenging and removing bad leaders in politics and in our organizations.

"We must not allow nepotism and tribalism to exist in our organizations," she said. "We must create a culture of performance not mediocrity."

She added: "It is our responsibility as Africans to build a better business environment and create talent for our people."

Luhabe emphasized the importance of educating the youth, as they are the future of Africa, and of creating entrepreneurs and adding vocational training to employment policies and agendas.

A recurring theme at the event was that Africa needs more champions -- the likes of Bob Collymore, CEO of Safaricom in Kenya, Thierry Tanoh, CEO of Ecobank and Tewolde Gebremariam, CEO of Ethiopian Airlines. The last two were respectively named African Company of the Year and African CEO of the Year at the Forum.

...African CEOs need a platform where they can share and learn from one another
Mariéme Jamme

This event was extremely timely, current and relevant. Timely, because Africa's growth has been consistent in the past decade -- almost 6% growth per year. The global crisis in Europe is not stopping Africa's growth.

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