In March 2005 the report of the Commission for Africa called for a sea change in the way the business community engaged in the development process in Africa. The G8 Gleneagles summit that July made a series of commitments on boosting African development, while in London a new international network was launched to bring G8 and African business leaders together to build on the momentum of the Commission and the UK’s dual G8 and EU presidencies. Business Action for Africa (BAA) declared its aims as:
This report is a review of BAA’s first two years of work, situating it in the context of G8 and NEPAD initiatives for private-sector development (PSD) from the ‘Year of Africa’ and the German presidency’s revival of commitment to African ‘Growth and Responsibility’ in 2007. It focuses on what BAA has achieved and can achieve, including how perceptions of its structure and agenda influence its work.
to present a clear African and international business voice to promote growth and poverty reduction;
to promote more positive, balanced perceptions of Africa; and
to develop and showcase good business practice.
BAA is already a broad and expanding network of 145 businesses, business alliances, NGOs, government departments and international institutions with links to responsible business in Africa and a commitment to BAA’s pro-PSD agenda. Corporate members (firms) comprise the majority of the network and its board, cover an impressive array of business sectors and include
many of the world’s largest investors in Africa. However, less than 20% of represented businesses are Africa-based or -owned, and small and medium-sized enterprises are still poorly represented. Strategic oversight of the network remains very much with large multinational corporations and British government departments.
This has not adversely affected BAA’s programme of work – which incorporates many African firms outside the BAA network – but does represent a perception problem in both Africa and the G8/OECD. BAA has given a clear voice to British business in Africa but is not yet seen to have transcended its origins to articulate African and international business voices effectively. For the
future, BAA is exploring ways to develop network structures within African regions and states to discuss and shape future policies.
While BAA’s showcase collective action projects are only just beginning to bear fruit, the network hub has been effective in showcasing and sharing best practice via its website and regular promotion of the BAA brand and message at conferences and seminars. In 2007/08 collective projects on measures against corruption and reforms to improve customs administrations will
become increasingly operational across Africa and numerous other projects will be rolled out. Leading members of BAA are also major proponents of the G8-endorsed Investment Climate Facility for Africa and hope that it will develop synergies with BAA as its secretariat becomes operational in Tanzania.
After the Russian disengagement from Africa initiatives in 2006, the German G8 presidency has certainly provided BAA and like-minded organizations with a receptive environment for promotion of the PSD agenda. Most importantly, Berlin appears to have resisted the temptation to launch any major new African initiatives of its own, opting to reiterate and consolidate the commitments of Gleneagles and the 2002 G8–NEPAD Africa Action Plan. The Heiligendamm summit final declaration is unlikely to generate the headlines of years past but may represent a more genuine global consensus on development challenges and responses.
Looking beyond the summit towards the Japanese G8 presidency in 2008, BAA and other privatesector and civil society organizations face a greater challenge in keeping African development on the international agenda. Expanding the network to Asian as well as African members will be increasingly important in promoting growth through responsible business development in Africa.