US-Africa trade relations came under the spotlight at Wits Business School on Saturday 29 October as thought leaders from across the continent and the US came together for constructive, no holds barred dialogue at the inaugural US Business in Africa Conference.
Under the umbrella theme “US businesses doing well by doing good in Africa”, the conference followed a prestigious awards ceremony held in Sandton the preceding evening, during which six US companies were recognised for the role they are playing in growing the African economy. In the medium-sized category the winners were: NBA Africa (bronze), Fayus (silver) and Honeywell (gold) and in the large category: Kimberly Clark (bronze), the Alistair Group (silver) and Massmart Holdings (gold).
A Wits University initiative, the US Business in Africa Awards (USBAA) and Conference will become an annual event, co-hosted by the African Centre for the Study of the United States (ACSUS) at Wits and Wits Business School (WBS). Several partners from the industry, the public sector and development agencies, as well as other US and African business schools, have joined forces to ensure the longevity and ongoing impact of the initiative.
“We initiated this programme to highlight the importance of the role that US businesses can play in investing responsibly in Africa and contributing meaningfully to her economic development. There are thousands of US businesses on the continent, and yet there is no Africa-wide initiative focused on highlighting the impact of American companies, recognition of excellence for US businesses, and their contributions,” explains Dr Bob Weseka, Deputy Director at ACSUS.
In his opening address, the Vice-Chancellor of Wits University Professor Zeblon Vilakazi commented on the urgent need to deliver on the three overarching policies governing trade and investment in Africa: the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the US African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“These are lofty ideals which need to be operationalised in Africa. The USBAA initiative is an important step to towards enhancing US-African economic engagement and influencing policy across the gamut of business, the public sector and academia.”
Panel discussion topics included the opportunities for Africa to participate in global trade presented through the AfCFTA, questions arising from the expiry of AGOA in 2025, mainstreaming environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles in Africa, and cultural and language competencies for doing business in Africa.
The conference closed with the launch of a corporate ambassadorship and case study project.
“The initiative does not stop with the recognition of excellence. It is also about knowledge creation, and we will be using the data derived from the judging processes for corporate ambassadorship, case studies and public engagement opportunities. This will give a platform to the winning companies to share their experiences and tell their stories,” says Professor Mills Soko, programme director of the USBAA conference.
Partners in this initiative include the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, the Centre for African Studies at Howard University, Good Governance Africa (GGA), the Pan-African School of Policy Innovation, the Centre on African Philanthropy & Social Investment (CAPSI) at WBS, the US Embassy in South Africa, as well as Strathmore University Business School and Lagos Business School.