Interview With Richard Attias, Chairman, Richard Attias & Associates; Founder, The New York Forum AFRICA (AfricanArguments.org)
Why did you choose to host the New York Forum AFRICA in Gabon?
I first conceived of the notion of creating a pan‐African economic forum for Africa, in Africa in 2012. President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon shared the same notion and vision. The Republic of Gabon is one of the leading regional players in Central Africa today. The country itself is peaceful and stable and its “business model” is a successful one. Its national strategic plan, “Emerging Gabon” shares the same DNA as that of the New York Forum AFRICA: initiatives, innovation, implementation and focus on results. The Forum’s mission is to be a catalyst for potential investors and existing projects, a hub, if you will. We are therefore building a permanent market place for facilitating business, and most importantly, for fostering employment opportunities through business deals and innovative partnerships.
What role do Gabon and other countries in the region play in the larger debate on economic progress in Africa?
Africa is a continent of over 1 billion inhabitants, with 54 countries, many different languages, myriad cultures, religions, and economies. It is diverse, which is a source of strength, but it is also fractured, a legacy of colonialism and under-development. This presents a challenge from political economy perspective, as Africa cannot be considered as a whole, like India or China. That’s why I firmly believe that regional integration is necessary to build a stronger pan–‐African economy, create jobs for the generation of today, recover trust in public institutions and global markets, and to promote regional stability and human security. From this perspective, Central Africa has a key role to play in the development of Africa as a continent. In the field of natural resources, oil, and renewable energy, the potential is huge at a regional level. In terms of infrastructure, countries like Republic of Congo-Brazzaville, the DRC, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon have started to work together. This sub-region is now becoming more and more attractive.
Why is this debate important now?
The continent has been volatile for decades, bouncing back and forth from tragedies to recoveries, from conflicts to hope, not withstanding the impressive double digit economic growth figures; one phenomenon has remained the same: growth has always benefited a limited few. The time is therefore NOW for the continent of Africa: we need to build inclusive business models. We need to give a real answer to the youth of Africa. They need jobs! They need support. The New York Forum AFRICA is a call to action for business leaders and for policy makers. Our platform is one of the only true home-grown business meetings for Africa, in Africa, that can show the world that Africa is no longer a problem in the economic context, but a source of inspiration.
Who are the main speakers and why have they been invited?
The New York Forum AFRICA is a unique platform where participants will have the opportunity to meet heads of states (the CEMAC Summit will take place directly alongside NYFA), the heads of international institutions, CEOs, NGOs, students, and experts. All of the participants are real doers. All of them are unique. They come from more than 50 countries. They are coming to work, analyse, listen, share, and suggest concrete actions that could have an impact at a local, national or continental level. We have more than 200 speakers, which is a record and shows the attractiveness of the continent to global leaders and influencers.
What’s your highest hope for the meeting?
Commitments! We’ll be focused on that. For the first time this year we are creating a marketplace to facilitate access to markets and to the opportunities that abound. We want concrete results and initiatives born in Libreville. We are also thinking at the global, macroeconomic policy level: our work will truly begin the day after the closing of the New York Forum AFRICA at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland. We plan to be one of the leading voices and advocates for Africa with the G8 heads of state assembled there.
The New York Forum AFRICA will be held between 14th – 16th June in Libreville, Gabon.