21 – 23 September 2021,
The Intercontinental Hotel, Lagos, Nigeria.
Dear Friends of West Africa & the Sahel,
All Protocols observed,
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am honored to take part in this iteration of the West Africa Business Forum which touches on a top priority for the United Nations: “Empowering Women and Youth to Spur Africa’s Transformation Agenda”.
Please let me first thank the organizers of this very timely event: the ECA regional office for West Africa and COMPASS Global Services. Let me also seize the opportunity to welcome the champions of honors, my sisters her Excellency Mrs. Zaineb Shamsuna Ahmed and USG Vera Songwe. Thank you both for all your commitment and leadership in Africa and the Sahel region, and for being a role model to all our women, girls and youth.
I salute the spirit of this Forum; which goes beyond the usual rhetoric ; as it is grounded on practicalities; and showcasing success stories, to emulate. These success stories point to the way forward . We very often do not put a powerful spotlight on the vibrancy of ongoing & emerging youth & women business practices & opportunities in West Africa.
Yet, this region is not alien to women and youth entrepreneurship. At all. The pioneering spirit of our Mama Benzs is still strongly very alive and the younger generation is still fed in that conquering spirit, while embracing the digital moment. All across West Africa, a growing wave of self-starters are taking risks and defying obstacles to bring their ideas to life. Powered by a can-do attitude and deep conviction of striking it big, they’re navigating the complexity of challenges to pursue their dreams and turning them into opportunities and successes.
I can feel this can-do & will – do spirit floating in this room !
I am particularly delighted to see that this year’s forum, is dedicated to ‘women and youth empowerment’, a cross-cutting priority of our UN Support Plan for the Sahel. In 2018, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, mobilized the UN system to recalibrate the Security Council UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS) with one and only goal: put the people at the center of our approaches to the response in the region, with a particular focus on women and youth not only as beneficiaries but as agents of change and transformation.
With a revised UN strategy based on the emerging needs of the Sahelian population, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development serves as our roadmap for the transformation of the Sahel countries. The idea with the UN Support Plan for the Sahel is to bring under the same umbrella all partners involved in the region to trigger further investment and mobilize resources that would enable the implementation of scaled up and game changing initiatives.
I am thrilled to present our Strategy at this Business Forum and hope that the discussions and outcomes will contribute to leverage our existing partnerships and bring in new investors, in particular the private sector and local actors.
With , the UNISS & Agenda 2030, two very clear frameworks on how we can collectively turn challenges into opportunities and make a change in the region, it behooves us all to collectively further articulate pragmatic ways of directly supporting women and youth to realize their potentials through access to economic opportunities, including education, training, business and entrepreneurship.
This forum serves as a unique platform to reflect on good practices, capacity building, creating conducive environments for investments, de-risking investment policies, recommendations for favorable business and tax regulations/policies for small and medium-sized businesses particularly those owned by women and youth. It is for us to translate all these ideas and outcomes into impactful turning points to score immediate and long-term results for the populations of the Sahel.
Empowering women and young people is the only way to harness the huge demographic dividends that can guide the socio-economic development of African countries. We cannot continue to be deprived of half humanity’s talent and the only way to leverage this extraordinary potential is to ensure that our girls have equal access to quality education and socio-economic opportunities. The only way to make a difference is to ensure that our youth and women have a seat at the table and that their voices are not only heard but included.
More than merely harnessing the demographic dividends of the region to achieve development, complete and inclusive regional integration is required. In fact this is a categorical imperative; a golden rule; a sine qua none condition for development to blossom. In this regard, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a crucial instrument to leverage and support women and youth . Contracting states have then the historical & binding obligation to create an enabling environment for women and youth traders to participate and derive benefit under the AfCFTA.
Inclusion will only happen if we all join forces and adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards those who still resist this commitment. I am pleased to inform you that in June 2021, the Government of Niger, together with the African Union and European Union, launched the UN Group of Friends of the Women of the Sahel at the Security Council. The objective through this platform is to inform the discourse, policy, and practice of furthering the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in development and peace building efforts in the Sahel.
In November, we will launch the Generation Unlimited Sahel Initiative with an aim to provide young Sahelian entrepreneurs with the right tools to enable them to access socio-economic opportunities and put them in touch with investors, including the private sector in Africa and beyond.
In addition, before the end of 2021, the UN System in the Sahel will launch a conversation platform titled Voices from the Sahel: Conversations, Visions & Solutions for direct engagement with young people and women of the Sahel. These are strides to shrink the vast engagement divide and to ensure, voices of women and youth truly guide our interventions. I invite you all to be active parties to those conversations. It is my deepest conviction that , unless we invert our national & international governance systems , by entrusting the younger generations, the right , duty & power to show the path forward, we may never reach our common destination for a world of peace, security and development.
Empowerment of women and youth in the region will benefit from acceleration, dedicated resources and innovative thinking. It can no longer be business as usual. For example, we have to discuss jobs and wealth creation. Not just any kind of jobs, but decent paying jobs including green jobs, considering the current realities of climate change.
We must ensure that women and youth in the Sahel and Africa can leverage advanced technology for business growth. Innovative solutions to advance entrepreneurship will contribute in creating new opportunities that can tackle unemployment, inequalities and discrimination in the region.
Let us today explore how women and youth can benefit from business engagement and be catalysts of change and drivers of development in West Africa and the Sahel.
I wish you fruitful discussions.