Though there have been calls after calls for Africa to develop its capacity to add value to the raw materials it produces before export, they have - to a large extent - remained just calls.
While Africans are toiling to produce the raw materials which are exported and then imported as finished goods sold at unreasonably high prices, it is foreigners who have been grabbing the best opportunities to do business in the continent. They are welcomed as investors who, through the presence of cheap raw materials and labour, are able to exploit the continent’s rich legacy of natural resources while Africans in general continue to languish in abject poverty.
Tanzania is among developing nations which have found themselves in this quagmire. For years, its raw resources have been exploited by foreigners leaving the country with peanuts in the form of taxes. Efforts to safeguard these resources have, sometimes, resulted in the enactment of stringent laws which become impediments to business operations.
But things have changed and many nations in Africa have realized that they will not develop if they continue to depend on aid, assistance and loans from foreigners. In the contemporary world, some African nations have been busy finding partners with whom they can do business with. This is done through promotion of the private sector, which essentially is the sector that is supposed to be doing business, while the public sector plays a more regulatory role. But there are challenges on this path as well.
For many years, international business protocols through various institutions such as the WTO have been shrouded with harsh conditions which are unfavourable to many African nations. But, some developing and developed nations have started to notice that the world has changed and the time to oppress Africa is long gone, because African nations are slowly beginning to realise not only their potential, but their rightful place in global trade.
Turkey is one such country which has started to treat African countries as equal partners in doing business. For the second time, the European nation has organized the Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Forum, which is designed to give businessmen from Turkey and Africa the opportunity to get to know each other and forge business and trade ties.
Turkey has realised that, going forward, doing business with Africa on an equal footing is the only way to ensure that it also benefits from the potential which Africa holds.
During the forum which attracted about 3,000 businessmen and traders from Africa and Turkey, the country expressed its readiness to share its development experience in different fields with African counterparts in order to broaden and strengthen the cooperation and trade relations among themselves.
Turkey has decided to take this route because it has realised the critical role of the private sector in economic growth and development by generating decent employment in order to create greater opportunities for all, reduce inequalities, raise basic standards of living, and ensure environmental protection. In this regard, Turkey has underlined the necessity of supporting private sector activities in Turkey and African countries in order to foster mutual investment and trade in each other’s countries.
It is upon Africa and its business people to grab and make good use of this opportunity.
To start with, Turkey has singled out construction and energy as areas in which Turkish and African entrepreneurs can do business. Turkish companies have already secured a number of high-profile construction projects in Tanzania, like the standard gauge railway (SGR). Another Turkish company has won a tender to construct a power transmission line in the western part of the country. These are just a few of the high-value projects which Turkish companies are increasingly undertaking across Africa.
To ensure that capital injection and technology transfer through these projects benefits the locals, these Turkish companies are ready to team up with their counterparts in Africa to undertake such projects. What they need is commitment and focus on what should be done.
If you analyse critically, infrastructure development is what Africa currently needs to enable it to develop quickly. This will enable African countries to reduce energy costs and increase access to electricity, decrease transport costs, boost intra-African trade, ensure water and food security, and increase global connectivity. Turkey has picked this area as its cooperation front with Africa.
Turkey and the African Union have resolved to work together towards establishing a partnership in the design, inspection, financing and management of projects under the Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) and The Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative (PICI).
The Tanzania Private Sector Foundation (TPSF) and Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC) were represented at the latest Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Forum held in Istanbul. Some individual local businessmen also attended the forum and learnt a lot from their counterparts not only in Turkey, but other African countries as well.
We believe that this forum has enabled local businessmen to forge productive relationships with their colleagues from Turkey and other African countries and that will be the beginning of expanding their activities through partnership and joint ventures.
For years, businessmen and traders in the country have lamented about the lack of opportunities to do business outside the country. Turkey has opened that door through the Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Forum, and it is now up to the local entrepreneurs to show that they can do it.