Time to join forces

Maryanne Maina

Maryanne Maina

Africa has the potential to create attractive economies, but only if African states work together towards the continent's growth and development.

So says Lynette Chen, the chief executive officer of the Nepad Business Foundation (NBF), who is passionate about Africa's progress.

Chen was seconded to the foundation by her employer Hewlett-Packard (HP) in May 2006 to August 2007, but when the time came for her to return to the information technology firm, she opted to stay with NBF.

"NBF has a more critical role to play in Africa. Our role is to implement strategy on how we can better and strengthen the corporate sector in Africa through business development opportunities by the NBF. The business sector has the resources and skills to drive and implement these projects."

Africa can develop into a powerhouse in the same proportions as China and India, but there are many challenges that hinder this growth.

Many of them are within the continent itself.

"There is a lack of proper regulation to encourage business such as visa provision to enable experts to enter into a country easily. Trade and economic policies need to be eased to encourage inter-Africa trade," said Chen.

Another issue is that the continent is too dependent on commodities, which works against us when global commodity prices fall.

"Manufacturing capabilities need to be developed at local levels. This will reduce the dependence of commodities in Africa. Maybe countries rely on their commodities only as their main source of income instead of putting their eggs into other baskets, thus reaping wider benefits from these other alternatives when world prices in the certain commodities are low."

She also said there was excess exporting of resources by African states to Europe; "but we import these as finished products at high costs".

"We have wealth and resources which we need to trade with each other or else we shall continue to be exploited. Inter-regional trade in the continent is crucial."

"Emerging markets such as China see potential in us as Africa but we don't seem to see that potential," Chen said.

African economies are growing but this is not translating into competitiveness amongst these countries except for South Africa, Mauritius, Botswana and Namibia. "Some countries are rebuilding from scratch after going through conflict," she said.

Irrespective of the challenges that the continent faces, Chen said she remains positive.

"The continent's growth rate will continue by five percent to seven percent even if the global economic trends are depressing."

Before joining the foundation, Chen was the government and public affairs manager of the local HP office.

Having studied at Wits Technikon she qualified in the specialist field of Communications and Public Relations.