By Onozure Dania
Andrew Skipper is the Partner and Head of Africa Practice at Hogan Lovells. In this interview, he speaks on the solutions needed to move Africa forward in a post-COVID-19 economy which formed part of this year’s edition of the Hogan Lovells Africa Forum. Excerpts:
To what extent were adjustments made to the agenda for this year’s Africa Forum due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
We had always intended the theme of the forum to be about Sustainability, and I believe that it is even more important to be thinking along the lines of this in the time of COVID-19 because there are a number of short term measures which could be taken to impact on sustainability.
We had an inspirational speech from Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is the first female president of Liberia and Nobel Peace Laureate; it was an emotionally stirring, determined speech calling out for unified action and fairness in dealing with the world post-COVID-19 to ensure that, people who have benefitted from the African economy should also invest. We are worried about the COVID-19 crisis, but also very concerned that people should do better in the future.
Absolutely doing better is what we need as an African continent and impact investing is one of the fastest-growing areas of asset management, talk to us about how this formed part of the forum?
Increasingly, it has become important to do so; at the forum, we had Emma Wade-Smith, Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for Africa, UK Department for International Trade who spoke about how important it is for countries, whether it’s multilaterals countries like the United Kingdom to be investing now, not just for aid but for sustainable development.
So, to have an impact on education in particular for example, would be to make sure people are tech-savvy going forward – like how we had a virtual forum. It’s clearly important to have the youth and particularly women of the continent moving forward to drive the advancement of the continent post-COVID-19.
Another area of importance is the managing of risk in light of the current state of the global economy on the African continent. Was this part of the conversations as the Africa Forum?
Recently, the African Union called for a new paradigm in Africa which involves a fair and robust discussion with donor states and states which are supporting sovereign Bank in sovereign debt, but also trying to ensure that with the African Continental Free Trade Agreements, hopefully coming into place, Africa can actually build in Africa for Africa.
So, rather than exporting raw materials and having a margin added, it could be built in Africa. And with the opportunities presented by COVID-19, which people are seeing, for example from the global supply chain, Africa has a fantastic opportunity with its increased demographics to actually not take over from China but to move alongside China in development.
So, I believe in terms of risk, the Government can take a bit of the risk to allow the private sector to play its role in the development. You have to open up Africa and work together in partnership with Africa but also with the outside world.
The biggest lessons to be learned out of COVID-19 as you’ve indicated is that it is about time that we heed what it is that the African Union has in place and one of them being that Free Trade Agreement. How do we do this with a very focused and deliberate effort?
At the Africa Forum, it was said by Dr Fatimata Dia, Ambassador of Senegal to the United Kingdom, that firstly, there is a need to make choices and secondly, education. Particularly educating the youth is vital because the workforce of the world in the next 20 to 30 years will be Africa and that workforce has to be educated and also trained with technology.
I believe the impact on the education system has been shown well in how much one can learn virtually, and that’s something which Africa is completely open to now as there are so many people with capabilities. So, I think there’s a big opportunity there.
How do we then translate what you have said about the education sector, to the health sector on the African continent that has already or has historically been at a disadvantage?
Again, if we take a look at what the African Union is doing, this is playing catch up but is also making significant investments in health. I think the challenges are the choices. Unfortunately, you can’t do everything and across Africa, there is a massive power and infrastructure deficit, but at the same time, can you spend all your time dealing with that, if you have health care issues which have to be addressed?
I don’t have the answers to that. But I think the challenges are without power and infrastructure. You can’t drive health and you can’t deliver education. So there has to be a balance and that’s why the message coming out of the Hogan Lovells Africa Forum this year has been for collaboration between public and private sector so they are working together. The International Community has to work with the African Community and likewise the African countries working amongst themselves to deliver this because you can’t do it on your own. This is a serious crisis.
Interesting that you raised the business sector here, how big of scope is their role in moving Africa forward?
We had some very senior CEOs from a wide range of sectors and surprisingly, they were all very confident about firstly their commitment to Africa and secondly to the fact that they would be able to develop their own businesses.