The afternoon sessions of the event included a plenary reach back to both positives and negatives, but with a public sector twist. Positives in terms of achievements, such as the UK Africa Investment Summit, and the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement; negatives in terms of drought, disasters, and pandemics including Covid-19.
Three ambassadors – Emma Wade-Smith, the UK’s trade Commissioner for Africa, Ethiopian ambassador, H.E.Tarek Ahmed Ibrahim Adel, and Senegalese ambassador, H.E. Dr. Fatimata Dia, spoke on the role of government and the public sector in delivering sustainability and growth.
The session mixed East and West African experience and insights, with Wade-Smith’s own contributions, not just on delivering economic recovery, but a green and sustainable one, taking into account longer impacts on the African continent like climate change when looking for sustainable solutions, to which Adel and Dia made strong, evidence-led contributions.
Here, people, policy, planning and process were all discussed, as were – crucially - possibilities; Wade-Smith focused on technology, which, she rightly said, would remain a tremendous enabler for Africa.
In between "Straight Talks" ranging from science, culture and the arts, led by Marion Palmer, senior scientist at Hogan Lovells, and Rami Jawhar of Google, the final breakout sessions included one addressing African energy need, assessing both the role and purpose of conventional and renewable power generation in Africa.
Speakers were drawn across the energy mix. Featuring two CEO’s, Louis Coetzee of Kibo Energy, and Tunde Akerele, at Tatanga Energy, as well as Dornier Group’s Anup Bhargava, for an Indian perspective, and consultancy views offered by Forbes Padayachee, at African Power Advisory, this was a high profile panel – with punch to match.
Arun Velusami, a Hogan Lovells energy partner, chaired it. Key themes emerging from the session included realism on the place of fossil fuels in Africa, with recognition that coal will play a major part in Africa for years to come, alongside other fossil fuels, but renewables will surely be important, and the full range of energy sources need to be handled well.
Bhargava gave good comparative insights on the way the Indian energy industry had evolved and changed, applicable to the African market, while the panel discussed the evolution of development finance institutions (DFI) funding for energy projects, alongside the classic debt/equity mix players.
The other breakout was led by Abena Poku, a senior business development manager at Hogan Lovells. Poku brought together leading African women for a discussion on how to become a trailblazer, as inspirational as it was enlightening. Contrasting African female leadership with disparities in economic achievement, it was a session which praised success, but also did not shy away from addressing challenges or reverses, either.
With participants drawn from the arts, such as Touria El Glaoui; finance, like Tokunboh Ishmael, founder and managing director at Alitheia Capital; business, in the form of Dentaa Amoateng MBE; and law, thanks to Toyin Ojo, senior counsel at the African Legal Support Facility (ALSF), it was a lively and practical discussion.
The participants spoke freely and firmly, suggesting the challenges they faced might be met, not just through women (and men) supporting women, but with appropriate structural, professional and cultural underpinnings to enduringly empower more women into senior leadership and ownership positions.
The highlight of the afternoon session, however, was the closing keynote address by the first female president of Liberia, and Nobel Peace Laureate, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, which offered insights from a genuine African trailblazer.
Introduced by Andrew Skipper, partner and head of the Africa practice at Hogan Lovells, Sirleaf gave a powerful and insightful keynote that addressed issues on growth and sustainability, and far more besides. It was a tour de force that was directed at how Africa can emerge stronger from the pandemic, and foster sustainable development across the continent.
Both private and public sectors had a duty of care to do so, Sirleaf noted. It was a shared duty, she added “care that the greatest assets to business – people – are healthy and well”, and to care “for the wellbeing of the people for which governments are constituted”, be that through clean water, and to live and work in safe, and sustainable, environments.
The Covid-19 crisis also needed to address gender disparities, she said, in challenging African leaders to remove obstacles to growth and the transformation of societies, with states and lenders urged to help by “scaling up support to the informal sector which predominantly employs women”, mainly in low income jobs
Women too, were praised by Sirleaf, for their leadership during the crisis, but without further addressing gender disparities, the world, post-pandemic, could risk recreating a world rife with inequality.
Sirleaf noted it was well documented “that several countries who either have women at the helm or have gender equal leadership have done better in many ways in saving lives and mitigating the effects of the virus on the people of those countries.”
Whether working in health or social care, the economy, or elsewhere, the successes, she said were, in part due “to the fact that many women have radar for injustice, having suffered so many forms of injustices and discriminations themselves.”
Effective sustainable development, she said, would come only if communities came together, leaving differences to one side, “we are all connected by a common thread that is humanity”.
The pursuit of sustainable development goals, she said, lay in the ownership of a duty to each other to enable humanity, which, she said would “make our common thread not weak, but strong and capable of enduring.”
Only this way, she argued, could the world, and Africa, survive the pandemic – but things could not stay the same, she added: “We must not let ourselves become the same world of gender discrimination, prejudice, and bias that got attacked by the coronavirus. Our imperative must be to build back better as well as differently.”
Sirleaf, in addressing the conference, noted that African resources had been central to Western development; now, she said, was the time for Africa to benefit in return, adding “Our continent will survive this pandemic, but the effect and the needs are enormous,” saying she hoped they would respond positively.
It was left to Miguel Zaldivar, the new chief executive officer of Hogan Lovells, to conclude the event. Zaldivar commented on being: “The first CEO to come from an emerging market in any AmLaw 50 firm. That speaks volumes about this institution that I am now honoured to lead," adding that his firm would continue to be supportive of Africa, and hold the event in future.
Dwelling on both the global nature of his law firm, and the importance of alliances – including African alliances – globally, he stressed the firm’s work in areas where both government and business intersected, much of which was illustrated during the day.
Meeting global needs were, he said, their forte; and the challenges of Covid-19 were one such. One that he hoped leaders would come together to resolve.His closing remarks touched upon diversity and inclusion – appropriate themes which compliments well the growth and sustainability Africa needs.
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