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Ethiopian Airlines is the African Champion of the Year 2019

By Joël Té-Léssia Assoko, in Kigali
Posted on Tuesday, 26 March 2019 16:12

CEO Tewolde GebreMariam accepts the African Champion of the Year award on behalf of Ethiopian Airlines. Ethiopian Airlines/Twitter

Ethiopian Airlines was chosen as the African Champion of the Year at the 2019 Africa CEO Forum.

It was a “vote of confidence” for the airline, which recently suffered a tragic plane crash in which 157 died, its CEO, Tewolde GebreMariam, said.

As the seven companies competing for the award were called out at the 25 March gala dinner, those at the venue seemed to have made their choice. In an emotional moment, the crowd burst into loud applause when Ethiopian Airlines was announced as the winner.

The Ethiopian company was competing for the title with other heavyweights committed to regional economic integration: the Azalaï Hotel Group run by Malian entrepreneur Mossadeck Bally, Morocco’s Banque Centrale Populaire, Royal Air Maroc, fertiliser giant OCP, the South Africa-based construction specialist Mota-Engil Africa and the India-based customer service specialist iSON Group, which has operations in Nigeria.

“I would like to start by thanking everyone who has supported us after the tragic accident that happened to us two weeks ago,” Tewolde said. The Ethiopian manager, who received a standing ovation from participants at the Africa CEO Forum gala, expressed “his deepest and most sincere condolences to the victims, the families of the victims, the affected countries and the African continent as a whole” following the 10 March crash of the Boeing 737 Max 8.

This tragic accident is the deadliest in the history of the company, which has established itself, in a short period of time, as the most pan-African of the continent’s air carriers. Present in 40 countries, with hubs in Addis Ababa and Lomé, Ethiopian Airlines is also “the most profitable African air operator on the continent”, according to Amir Ben Yahmed, president of the Africa CEO Forum and managing director of Jeune Afrique Media Group. Over the period 2017-2018, the Ethiopian airline shattered its own records, both in terms of traffic (10.6 million passengers, +21%) and financial results (€2.75bn, +43%), with 110 aircraft at its disposal.

Mohamed El Kettani, CEO of the Year

Other major African companies were also honoured during the forum, which was held for the first time this year in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. The winners were chosen by a panel of 20 professionals active in Africa, including Abdou Diop, managing partner of Mazars Group in Morocco, Nadia Fettah, general manager of the insurer Saham Finances, Tanzanian entrepreneur Mohammed Dewji and Togolese banker Cathia Lawson-Hall, head of insurance and investment at Société Générale.

The African CEO of the Year award was presented to Mohamed El Kettani, CEO of Attijariwafa Bank. He dedicated his award “to the group’s 20,000 employees who serve 10 million customers in Africa”, and mentioned King Mohammed VI, “who has driven South-South cooperation and continental integration through the private sector”. El Kettani added: “We love Africa, our continent, which makes us feel good about it.”

Nigerian logistics specialist Kobo360 was named African Disrupter of the Year. The company beat online retailer Jumia, Baobab+ solar-kit specialist, Senegal’s payment company InTouch, and Kenya’s Africa’s Talking, which develops mobile communication applications.

Access Bank boosts women’s leadership

The French electricity company Engie Africa, which has devoted €380m to acquisitions and investments on the continent in recent years, was voted International Company of the Year for its “significant impact on local communities in a sector that is particularly important for Africa’s economic development”. Also competing were US-based Endeavour Energy, Singapore’s Indorama Eleme Fertilizer & Chemicals, Kuwait’s National Aviation Services and French telecom operator Orange Middle East and Africa.

Nigeria’s Access Bank, where women represent 30% of the directors of the group’s six subsidiaries, was rewarded for its efforts to promote female leadership with the Gender Leader of the Year award. Also nominated in this category were South Africa’s Absa Group, First Bank of Nigeria, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods specialist Unilever and the diversified Moroccan group Ynna Holding.

This story first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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