Investors Seal $36bn Deals, As 2021 Intra-African Trade Fair Ends In S’Africa

The week-long Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF) 2021, ended November 21, 2021, ended in Durban, South Africa, with organizers announcing the signing of deals worth $36bn of deals at the fair which was attended by about 12,000 in person, and 1,161 exhibitors with participants from 128 countries.

The week, organized by the African Export-Import Bank alongside the African Union put the spotlight, through various debates and discussions, on how the African Continental Trade Agreement will unlock Africa’s economic potential, enabling greater cross-border trading and developing industrial capacity which will take advantage of the continent’s natural wealth.

Besides the Fair and the Forum, there were specific programmes dedicated to Automotive Manufacturing; Pharmaceuticals; Creative Industries; startups; and the Youth. There was also a day focused on investments and investment opportunities: The Investment Forum looked at Africa’s investment landscape, with a focus on opportunities across four strategic sectors: Agriculture, Logistics, Technology, and Tourism.

IATF was Africa’s largest in-person B2B and B2G event of the year, with the opening ceremony featuring seven Heads of Government from Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia, Zanzibar, and Zimbabwe.

During one of the panel discussions, Dr. Benedict Oramah, President of Afreximbank, warned that “the IATF is not an end in itself but rather is a means to an end. And the end game is the Africa we want; an integrated Africa that trades with itself, that uses trade to restore the dignity of Africans, and for trade to become an instrument of development and that helps Africa gain respect internationally so that others don’t see Africa as a basket case but rather as a bread basket.”

The Investment Forum took place on the fourth day of the IATF 2021 programme, showcasing investment opportunities on the continent and promoting cross-border investment by African national champions, focusing on some key sectors and learning from investors and companies who are committed and invested in the African continent. The Investment Forum also served as a platform to launch the IATF 2021 Project Book, which, in cooperation with African Investment Promotion Agencies, showcases a multitude of investment-ready projects.

While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery was a common theme across the Investment Forum, Dr. Acha Leke, Senior Partner and Chairman, McKinsey & Company, Africa, spoke of the general optimism investors feel about Africa.

For him, “the good news is that we didn’t lose 150 million jobs [in Africa in the pandemic], we did lose about 30 million. So generally, we were not as affected as we feared by the crisis which makes it more exciting on one hand for investors to come and continue to invest in these markets.”

However, in his presentation, Leke stressed that Africa’s economic performance over the past few years, even before the Covid-19 hit had been on a downward trajectory, something governments and investors will have to work hard together to reverse.

Panelists highlighted the innovation taking place in technology in Africa, with Fabian Whate, head of South African-based tech investment company Naspers Foundry, noting that at least 60% of venture capital (VC) investment in Africa is into the fintech sector.

“Over the last two years we have seen a significant acceleration in digital adoption and that’s been driven primarily by the pandemic,” he added.

This was echoed by the Hon. Bogolo Joy Kenewendo, Former Minister of Trade, Botswana, noted that “Covid has certainly challenged us, many governments were challenged to start delivering services to people and they were forced to start talking about digitalisation.”

Speaking on the adverse effect of the pandemic on the tourism sector at a dedicated panel, Cuthbert Ncube, African tourism board, South Africa, urged African tourism institutions and governments to collaborate and help rescue the continent’s tourism sector from the pandemic,

“We need to start breaking the barriers that had separated us. In the past two and half years, we have experienced the worst negative impact on our tourism sector. That brought our tourism economies to a standstill,” she stressed.