By Laolu Akande, New York
As the United Nations General Assembly High-Level week proceeded last week, the idea of Africa as the next business frontier of the world resounded with glaring ardour.
Even the very fact that New York where all of the world’s attention is turned to about this time every year is led by an African American is symbolic. And that the UN which is the host has a Deputy Secretary-General who is an African woman is also especially significant.
Besides the speeches of many African leaders at the ongoing General Debate that opened last week Tuesday, September 19th, it was the event of the UN Global Compact themed Unstoppable Africa that really took the shine in New York if you ask many.
The Global Compact, a UN agency had started a Global Africa Business Initiative GABI, as “the premier private sector-led global platform that galvanizes African and global leaders to amplify Africa’s unstoppable business, trade, and investment opportunities.”
So Unstoppable Africa is a product of the UN Global Compact’s Global Africa Business Initiative which was launched last year by the Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, Ms. Amina Jane Mohammed, a former federal minister in Nigeria. This year GABI had two days of high energy conversations on Unstoppable Africa which peaked with a high-powered dinner, steps away from the UN headquarters last Thursday night.
Ahead of the dinner, Unstoppable Africa in several sessions at the Westin Hotel held several strategic high-level discussions between Heads of State, private sector leaders, investors, heads of multilateral organizations, and leading creative economy personalities from the continent. The focus this year was on: Energy Access and Energy Transition, Inclusive Growth and Trade, and Digital Transformation.
But it was the speeches of both the New York Mayor, African American Eric Adams and UN’s Amina Mohammed that fired the imagination of many that Thursday night dinner in New York and certainly many more who would review the event.
Seated among the few hundreds in the ballroom were leaders across the continent and the world, such as the notable African billionaire Mo Ibrahim from Sudan. There were many from Nigeria including Dr. Kayode Fayemi, former Ekiti State Governor, Wale Edun; Finance Minister & Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Bosun Tijani; Communication & Digital Economy Minister, billionaires Tony Elumelu Abdul Samad Bua and FolorunshoAlakija. There was also Oscar Onyeama of the Nigerian Exchange Group and SSA to the President on SDGS; Princess Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire.
According to the New York Mayor, who spoke at the dinner challenging African business and political leaders, “this is our moment as Africans.” He made the point that New York is the most important city in the world and it is today led by a man of an African descent.
The Mayor, a leading politician here in the USA, said Africa must take charge of its present situation by seizing the moment to position itself as the cornerstone of the world’s future.
“We must through self-determination ensure that the natural resources of Africa will never again be exploited. We have our solutions. It is not about the brain drain of the continent that once regained academic standards. We must use the academic knowledge that we got from prestigious institutions to go in and build Africa and make it what we want,” the Mayor charged.
He continued “the most important city on the globe is New York City and the Mayor of the most important city is an African. So we must do business together.
Telling a bit of his personal story, Mayor Adams disclosed: “I was told I would never amount to anything when I was a little boy. In all my life, I was rejected. We left Africa in slavery. This is our moment as Africans. It is not going to remain forever….this is our moment.
“This is our time to build Africa the way we know Africa can be. I am so proud to be in this room with you. Now, let’s use this moment to finally make the connection. The cradle of civilization is undeniable with all the mighty African people. We can be what we will,” he concluded.
*The real power is in Africa, says Amina Mohammed*
Speaking next right after what was a beautiful dinner was the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, who said Africans anywhere in the world possess real power irrespective of their demography.
She acknowledged among others the unique role Nigerians and Africans were playing globally. She herself is a representation of that fact.
“Africans in this room today, whether they are of African descent or diaspora,… the real power is in Africa,” said Mohammed.
She was also proud of the progress women were making in the continent and globally and asked the women leaders at the UN to be recognized as many applauded at the event. Sanda Ojiambo the CEO of UN Global Compact, a Kenyan lady and Olajobi Makinwa, a senior adviser in the agency from Nigeria were among many others that the Deputy Secretary-General was referring to.
Speaking on the theme, she then observed that indeed “we are only unstoppable when we own everything; the good, the bad and the ugly and whatever needs to be done we do it as leaders, we need you to step up.
“Leaders in governments, leaders in civil society, the leadership in Africa needs to step up and to step out so that everyone knows why we are unstoppable and we Africans can look up to our leaders and say they are going to make something of this.”
Ms. Mohammed then charged that Africans need to leverage their potential.
“Whatever it is, look at the potential and feed from it because we can. We just heard from our Minister in Nigeria for technology. What amazing inspiration, this is someone who didn’t need to come into government, and he will succeed because there is leadership that knows that the young people are not waiting anymore.
“We have spent time in New York, and we decided to encourage the African business community to meet at the greatest gathering every year in September, in New York. That gathering gives so many people an opportunity to see Africa differently and that gathering is opening for us to visualize Africa differently.
“We have been taking SDGs goals halfway through, we are failing, 15 percent performance but what we have seen in this last week is amazing voices that started rising from Africa, from Paris, talking eyeballs to eyeballs with their colleagues and partners, saying stop there, you are wrong, this is for Africa and this is where we are going.”
Speaking as an African herself she said: “we got potential but we have conflicts, we have issues of governance and we need to solve this because we can, but we are only going to be able to do it because we put women at the helm of affairs so that is one thing.”
According to her, Africa is blessed with the best brains who can develop the continent, especially with the women’s power, “We are not talking about numbers, we are talking about brains, we are talking about the capacity to sit in a room and to discuss with other men.”
“Remember when it comes to conflicts, men talk about winning wars while women talk about a pathway to peace so we don’t want to make gentlemen an endangered species. With women in the room, I think we can succeed so men move aside just a little to the left we will move a little to the right and when we come together, we can be unstoppable,” she concluded her remarks at an event which certainly renewed the hope of leaders around the world regarding Africa, whether they be political or business leaders.
In all, it was an evening of hope, fun, and yet one offering a serious anticipation of what the future holds for Africa in our world.
The UN Global Compact that hosted the event is simply put the UN agency that rallies the private sector in the member countries of the world body to support its work as a global intergovernmental organization. The Compact has over 23, 000 participants, in 166 countries, and 62 local networks in those countries.
Below are pictures: