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Barriers Broken Down – The NABA Summit 2013 opens up for further Norwegian-African business relations

330 guests attended the Norwegian-African Business Summit 2013, NABA’s annual flag ship event, on Friday November 1st 2013. Norwegian business leaders, African ambassadors, and business representatives from Europe and Africa were present to learn more about the opportunities offered in African markets, how barriers to entry to African markets can be broken down, and not least to make new connections. (Click on photo to expand – picture from the people & partnerships plenary session) 

The conference was opened by Mr. Børge Brende, Norway’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs. Having recently taken office, the Summit became the first arena for the Minister to share the government’s views on the future of Norwegian-African relations. The Minister presented a positive view on the role of Norwegian business in Africa, among others highlighting how business contributes to economic development.

Mr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, award-winning Central Bank Governor of Nigeria, broke down mental barriers to doing business in Africa in his key-note speech, painting a positive, yet honest and realistic, picture of the current state of affairs in Africa. He pointed out that problems often associated with African countries, such as corruption, security and gender inequality – are not unique to Africa, and that they do not impede people from doing business in other parts of the world. He used success stories from Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya and Botswana to illustrate opportunities, and argued that there are many good stories coming out of Africa, but that they are not being communicated clearly enough.

During his keynote interview with Ms. Zeinab Badawi of the BBC, Mr. Arif Naqvi, CEO of the successful Abraaj Group, reminded the audience that the African continent can not be painted with one brush. It is a ‘ultra-local continent’, where local knowledge and understanding is key to successful investments.

The importance of partnerships was raised during the final part of the plenary session, in a panel debate moderated by Mr. Jonathan Ledgard of the Economist. Panellists were challenged to give advice on how to develop productive partnerships in an African context, leading to fruitful discussions on who makes an ideal partner, how contextual differences between African countries influence partnerships, public-private partnerships, and the future of partnerships in Africa.

Following lunch the conference broke into parallel sessions focused on particular barriers to doing business and how these can be dealt with in practice. How to link capital to the right investment opportunities was discussed at length by a panel of distinguished investors from both Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Practical advice on how to ‘navigate new waters’ – dealing with political risk, corruption, security, due diligence and local content requirements, was offered by experts within these fields. The challenges associated with lacking qualified labour and differing working cultures was discussed in the ‘people barrier’ session, with practitioners sharing their lessons learnt on what works and what doesn’t.

The popular speed dating session in the afternoon offered a great networking arena. More than 20 ambassadors/embassy representatives were present to discuss opportunities in their respective African countries with potential business partners. This year also offered speed dates with experts on political risk, corruption, legal issues, and not least Norwegian financing schemes available for businesses interested in going to Africa.

The Norwegian-African Business Summit 2013 has contributed to breaking down barriers to doing business in Africa, opening up to improved Norwegian-African business relations, and establishing new contacts, partners and networks to the many participants. Presentations from the Summit will be made available to our guests and NABA members.