By Enitan Okediji

two individuals posing
Author Enitan Okediji with Mr. Patrick Achi, Former Prime Minister, Head of Government, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire

On February 17, 2024, the African Business Club at Harvard Business School (HBS) held its 26th annual conference, “Africa Forward: Competing in a Global Era.” This year’s conference welcomed over 1,100 guests and 80 speakers from 20 countries to the HBS campus, featuring over 25 diverse panels and keynote sessions, providing discussions on key sectors including technology, agribusiness, trade and investments, financial services, energy, and healthcare. The conference was organized by HBS students Fatima Daif, Junaid Belo-Osagie and Phoebe Prah.

The theme of the 2024 conference, "Africa Forward: Competing in the Global Era," embodies the belief in Africa's potential to rise as a significant global player. In the face of disruptive forces reshaping the global economy — such as escalating geopolitical tensions, the impacts of climate change, shifts in global supply chains, and the growing influence of non-state actors — Africa needs to embrace new strategies to compete effectively. These shifts present an opportunity for Africa to redefine its engagement with the global community to obtain a greater share of global economic, social, and political value.

The Former Prime Minister, Head of Government, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, and the first CID Senior Fellow from Africa, Mr. Patrick Achi delivered a keynote address entitled "Accelerating Economic Growth and Sustainable Development in Africa."  Mr. Achi painted a vivid picture of Africa's potential while addressing the challenges that lie ahead for the continent. His speech, delivered to an audience of students, faculty members, and distinguished guests, emphasized the critical role of the next generation of African leaders in steering the continent toward a future of hope and prosperity.  

Mr. Patrick Achi addressing students, faculty, and distinguished guests at the 26th Harvard Africa Business Conference.

Mr. Achi drew parallels between his personal journey and the paths awaiting graduating students. He highlighted the significance of purposeful choices in shaping destinies. Despite lucrative opportunities abroad, his personal decision to return to Africa five years after graduation was borne out of courage and a commitment to contribute to the continent's development. 

In addition to highlighting his personal choices, Mr. Achi discussed the major challenges facing Africa, including food security, raw materials transformation, the digital divide, and pharmaceutical industry development. 

“Africa has the potential to address the most pressing challenges. With 65% of the world’s available arable land, the continent can not only feed its growing population, but also be a major food exporter. With 30% of the world’s critical minerals, the continent could lead the energy transition.”

-  Mr. Patrick Achi

Mr. Achi emphasized Africa's potential, citing statistics on population growth, mobile phone penetration, and economic dynamism. From his wealth of ministerial experience, Mr. Achi also shared five critical lessons that could catalyze Africa's transformative journey.  

  1. The importance of internal and external peace, security, and stability.
  2. The role of the private sector in driving growth alongside sound public policies. 
  3. Investing and sustaining high-quality education and building strong human capital.
  4. Enhanced accountability and ownership. 
  5. Preparing future generations for the challenges ahead.

Mr. Achi highlighted Cote d'Ivoire as a leading example of Africa's potential for recovery and growth. Despite enduring a civil war that ended in 2011, the country experienced a remarkable turnaround. From GDP per capita plummeting levels not seen since 1960, Cote d'Ivoire's economy experienced a rebirth and surged that same year, achieving the second-highest average growth rate globally. This resurgence saw the doubling of GDP and investment rates, along with significant reductions in poverty, increased life expectancy, and substantial improvements in electrification levels. With low inflation and a manageable debt-to-GDP ratio, Cote d'Ivoire's success serves as a beacon of hope for African nations facing crises, demonstrating the possibilities for transformation and progress. 

In his call to action, Mr. Achi urged students who are emerging as well-educated middle-class Africans to carry the continent to the mountaintop of hope and shared prosperity by embracing their roles as agents of change and architects of Africa’s destiny. Highlighting a Nelson Mandela quote, “It only seems impossible until it is done!,” he advocated for a renewed sense of urgency, accelerated structural transformation, shared responsibility, private sector involvement, quality leadership, and governance from the States and the political leaders.  

Mr. Achi advised the audience to embrace their responsibility in shaping Africa's future, emphasizing the importance of personal choices and collective action. The message left attendees empowered, inspired, and reflective, underscoring the vital role of leadership, innovation, and collaboration in realizing Africa's potential. 

Image Credits

Ada N. Ezeokoli, Minks Media

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