The 2010/09/02 at 09:25
Created in 1973 by Presidents Pompidou (France), Houphouët-Boigny (Côte d’Ivoire) and Senghor (Senegal), the Conférence Permanente des Chambres Consulaires Africaines et Francophones (CPCCAF or Permanent Conference of African and Francophone Chambers) remains little known in the business world, both on the African continent as in France. It nevertheless comprises 568 intermediary organisations (1) present in some thirty countries, and has notched up 200 projects (to the total value of 7.5 million euros, including 3 million in grants). Discreet since its creation, the network is now seeking to spread the news on its initiatives, and its permanent delegation is tightening the links between members and partners including the Agence Française de Développement (AFD or French Development Agency). “Africa-Europa (a Euro-African business convention organised by the CCIs of Le Havre and of Rouen in April this year, editorial note) hosted 206 European and 175 African entrepreneurs, 94% of whom declared themselves satisfied by the meetings scheduled. This success is largely due to the mobilisation of the CPCCAF,” stated Vianney de Chalus, President of the CCI of Le Havre, during a colloquium organised at the Palais Bourbon (where the French National Assembly meets) in Paris by the network in July this year.
“Five years ago, I do not think that it would have drawn such numbers or proceeded to such a quality selection of businesses. Its action is getting professionalised,” boasts the Le Havre CCI President who presides the International Commission of French CCIs. According to Omar Derraji, President of the CPCCAF and the CCI of Rabat-Salé, thirty-seven years of existence have enabled the CPCCAF to become one of the “vastest intermediary networks in Africa. This surge should continue in order to diffuse francophonie in economic terms. The CPCCAF is a marvellous tool that only gets worn down if it is not used.” Other than the colloquium in Paris, attended by around one hundred managers, general managers and presidents of African Chambers, the CPCCAF also organised the Universités de la Coopération Consulaire (Chamber Cooperation Summer School), from 29 June to 7 July. The objective: to train Chamber heads in business support services, enabling them to contribute to the development of the private sector in the countries in question – and to reduce the share of informal activities that currently represent 90% of the African economic fabric. Classes took place on the campus of HEC (the business school of the CCI of Paris) in the Île-de-France region.
Over eight days, 150 managers were trained in issues specific to intermediary networks: the creation of business formalities centres, the reception of foreign delegations, the development of strategic intelligence, or project management. Most trainees chose two seminars amongst the thirteen on offer. “I followed the training class for secretary generals and general managers as well as a more general one on the management of an intermediary organisation,” explains Philippe Broohm Djahlin, Manager of the CCI of Togo. “We wish to develop training in Togo, particularly in the domain of company management. Our partnership with HEC, in the context of its Executive Education programme, will lead to the development of all of the Chamber’s missions. We also wish to develop our activities towards equipment management (for the moment, the CCI wholly manages a coach station in Lomé only, editorial note), to create partnerships with overseas CCIs…” The Universités de la Coopération Consulaire enabled HEC to strengthen its existing links with intermediary organisations, businesses, as well as African administrative offices. For the CCI of Togo is not the only one wishing to develop its training with the help of the CCIP business school. Jean-Louis Billon, President of the CCI of Côte d’Ivoire, indicates his desire to “set up a certificate training programme for artisan businesses”, and then “to open schools”.
The eight days of training were offered at minimal cost to beneficiary Chambers of Commerce (set fee of 300 euros per trainee). The AFD and the CPCCAF participated in transport costs (up to 1,000 euros per ticket), financed housing and all HEC training. The project cost 550,000 euros, including 200,000 euros met by the AFD and 190,000 euros by the CDE(2). “Seven Senegalese Chambers made the journey,” says Moussa Ndiaye, Secretary General of the Chamber of Saint-Louis, who notably followed the seminar on training heads of training in African Chambers of Commerce. “I was able to reinforce my panel of pedagogical tools for training our elected representatives and members on their missions.”
Whilst all trainees surveyed declare themselves satisfied on a pedagogical level, less praise was given to the organisation of the event, due to the eternal problem of visas(3). During the colloquium at the Palais Bourbon, the Delegate President of the French Council of Investors in Africa, Anthony Bouthelier, endeavoured to validate an agreement signed with the French Minister of Immigration ensuring that there would “no visa problems for business people in France on condition that an irreducible time period of one month is respected”. But he was met only by a round of protests. According to Didier Mavouenzela, President of the Chamber of Commerce of Pointe-Noire (Congo), “Africa continues to represent a real market for French SMEs. But certain intermediary African services, notably Chambers, do not manage to obtain visas for France. We want capital to be free but we don’t want humans to circulate freely,” he regrets. “How can a long-stay work visa be finalised over one month in advance?” is the exasperated question of Sandra Bonin, Head of Communications at the Chamber of Commerce of Gabon. “There are always last-minute changes on dates, participant numbers... This is a real problem causing much tension before departure.”
Fine days ahead for Franco-African relationships
As well as drawing up an outcome on the seminars, the Paris meeting aimed at “taking stock, with public powers on French policy regarding economic cooperation and its policy in favour of the development of exports to Africa”. Debates only confirmed the absence of a new form of economic relationship between France and francophone Africa – and this despite competition from Chinese, Indian and Iranian companies (see the interview with Claude Koudou). It should be pointed out that these new players are not perceived as huge threats, either in France or Africa. “I do not view Chinese presence in Congo as a long-term investment,” states for example Didier Mavouenzela. “In the African unconscious, people know that it is necessary to work with France and Europe, due to a common history and geographical proximity.” This point of view is shared by Jean-Louis Billon and Pierre Simon, President of the CCIP, together at a press conference organised around the Universités Consulaires.
“For years now I’ve been telling businesses to not just target the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China, editorial note),” emphasises Pierre Simon. “The CPCCAF is the only structured organisation capable of implementing operational economic cooperation initiatives between Europe and francophone Africa. It could well become the most active partner of the European Commission in this domain(4),” defends the President of the CCIP. “In Burkina Faso for example, the Chamber of Commerce has access to the most comprehensive file on the country’s economic fabric. This product was put in place by the CCI of Toulouse in the context of the CPCCAF network.” It is precisely in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, that – according to Gilles Dabezies, in charge of the CCIP’s international initiatives and cooperation – the 2011 edition of the Universités de la Coopération Consulaire will be taking place.
(1) 175 French Chambers (Commerce and Industry, Trades and Professions, Agriculture); 16 CCIs in Belgium; one CCI in Canada; 117 African Chambers (Commerce and Industry, Trades and Professions, Agriculture); one Haitian Chamber; Union of Indian Ocean CCIs; CEMAC (Monetary and Economic Community of Central Africa) and UEMOA (West African Monetary and Economic Union).
(2) The CDE is a joint institution of the ACP (Africa, Caribbean, Pacific) States and the European Union.
(3) For more information, read the survey established by the Cimade association titled “Visa refusé”, on the conditions of French visa delivery. Available free of charge on www.cimade.org.
(4) Following the Palais Bourbon meeting, around one hundred participants attended a colloquium at the European Parliament, at the invitation of the Federation of CCIs of Belgium and the CCI of Brussels.
Claude Koudou, teacher and writer from the Côte d’ivoire
“The diaspora also has an economic role to play”
Claude Koudou is Collection Manager for the publishing house L’Harmattan, which he represents in Côte d’Ivoire. He argues in favour of a more active role for the European Diaspora on the African continent.
Commerce International: You preside the NGO Convergences, which organised its first colloquium in Paris in July this year. What are your objectives?
Claude Koudou: “Along with other intellectuals from the Diaspora and the continent, I launched Convergences in favour of Africa’s peace and development in autumn 2009, with the intention of organising the first meetings during the fiftieth anniversary of independence. The NGO was born from an observation I established as a writer: many members of the African Diaspora emigrated to Europe with the idea of returning to their place of birth one day, unsuccessfully for the most part due to local contingencies (1). We therefore wish to pool together the talents located on and outside of the continent (including in Brazil and Haiti, editorial note), by acting as a bridge. Every year, we will organise two meetings, one in Europe, another in Africa, in partnership with the NGO Coordination des Intellectuels d’Afrique et des Diasporas Africaines, which gathers 300 persons and is based in Dakar. The general idea is to allow civilian society to play its role, while placing our confidence in heads of State: our reflections can inspire them.”
How do you get yourself heard by African leaders?
C.K.: “In 2006, the Diaspora injected 200 billion euros into the continent, in other words double the sum of public aid for development in Africa. But the great majority of the sum goes towards families – only 7% represents investments. Our reflections focus on the reorientation of this financial manna towards job creation, which can only take place within an adapted economic environment. The Diaspora must be able to carry out enterprise, this is a major stake! The Côte d’Ivoire Diaspora network, of which I am Vice-President (and which is a member of Convergences, editorial note), has organised events in the country since 2007. But in spite of the setting up of an office for overseas Ivoirians (2), the Ivoirian government is not sufficiently interested in our aspirations. To create pressure, the various networks must work together, spread out and prove their credibility.”
What are your proposals?
C.K.: “There are many to be made, particularly in the real-estate sector. If we facilitate construction projects, notably those initiated by retired African émigrés, on-the-spot job creation will be more significant. It is also necessary to facilitate conditions for creating income-generating activities for overseas-based investors, whether businesses or individuals. Certain young French people with African origins, notably Ivoirian, show a desire to settle in their parents’ country to do business or find a qualified job in a Western company. This desire derives from a feeling that discrimination exists in the job-seeking world after their training in France, but also from a desire to return to one’s roots. In addition, we are seeking to make ourselves heard by Western authorities on the new economic expectations of African countries. They wish to function as (and with) emerging countries. In Côte d’Ivoire, Indian, Chinese and Iranian investors have negotiated real partnerships with the government.”
How do you view the presence of these new actors, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire?
C.K.: “In Côte d’Ivoire, France remains a privileged partner as it represents 50 to 60% of the stock of foreign capital. We can nevertheless observe the arrival of Iranian operators in the transport and public construction works sector (where China is also positioning itself), which are constructing the large infrastructure projects launched by President Laurent Gbagbo since 2002. Indian companies are investing in public transport (via public contracts) and, more recently, in the automobile and IT sectors. Certain are on the point of setting up in the biotechnology and ICT (information and communications technology) free zone of Grand-Bassam (located 20 km south of Abidjan, editorial note), the first West African technological cluster, in order to sell IT products manufactured on the spot to the sub-region’s companies and private clients. The conditions of their setting up include a transmission of savoir-faire, in a win-win logic. Openness to foreign non-French companies, even extra-European companies, operates on this model, slowly but surely. Former colonial powers must redefine their African policy by adapting to new configurations, and putting them into practice. The European Diaspora could act as a bridge, thanks to a dissipation of mutual incomprehension.”
(1) Claude Koudou is the author of Ivoiriens: quel projet de retour?, edited by L’Harmattan (2009). See also the web site of the NGO Convergences: www.ongcpda.org
(2) Implemented by President Laurent Gbagbo in 2001, the Overseas Ivoirian directorate is attached to the Ivoirian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.