African countries must trade more amongst themselves. Thats the message from the 2016 edition of the Africa CEO Forum, in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.
Panellists said countries should also look to backward integration to counter global shocks and a slump in commodity prices that have dampened the continent's economic outlook.
After the growth surge of the last decade, Africa's current economic outlook has taken a morose turn, as international partners withdraw from emerging markets in what has dented the continent's commodity dependent economies.
The more you trade with yourself, the less exposed you are to global shocks
Unpacking the new realities in Africa's business environment, William Ruto, Kenya's Deputy President, underlined that while 60% of Europe's trade is in Europe, Africa only accounts for 15 percent of intra-Africa trade.
"We must develop our infrastructural potential, regionally," said Ruto. "Instead of worrying about smaller problems like the commodity crises we should look at regional integration," he said.
But before regional integration, Aliko Dangote believes African economies should rethink backward integration, the ability to connect manufacturing industries with local feedstock, from cotton growing to textile factories.
"The more you trade with yourself, the less exposed you are to global shocks," he said.
Dangote, Africa's richest man, says he is rolling out an investment plan seeking to expand Nigeria's sugar sector to make the country self-sufficient. "These are hard times, but hard times bring opportunities," he said.
That the continent only accounts for a dismal 2% of the global cocoa revenue despite producing about 70% of the world's cocoa does not surprise AfDB's President Akin Adesina.
"It is time to industrialise Africa and diversify its economies [...] Africa must become a global power house in food and agriculture" he says. "But to do that, we must to solve our energy problem. Business can't be done in the dark."
With the enormous potential green energy holds for the continent "it is not about catching up" says Amir Ben Yahmed, vice President of Groupe Jeune Afrique and CEO of Africa CEO Forum. "It is about looking ahead."
"Despite the current commodity shocks afflicting some of its major sectors, African economies have remained robust and resilient with nine countries recording over 6% in growth."