AFRICA SME CHAMPIONS FORUM 2023 : “Africa’s development will be achieved through SMEs”

After Abidjan, Johannesburg and Nairobi, the Africa SME Champions Forum is back for its 8th edition on October 5 and 6 in Lomé. The program includes conferences, master classes and, above all, links between SMEs and financial players.

By Dounia Ben Mohamed

Accounting for more than 90% of Africa’s private sector, SMEs are the lifeblood of African economies.  And yet they remain the great forgotten of major public policies and financial institutions.

This is the purpose of the Africa SME Champions Forum, the 8th edition of which will be held in Lomé on October 5 and 6. This new edition follows on from the previous one, held in Kampala last October, after two years without an event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, » explains Didier Acouetey, General Commissioner of the Africa SME Champions Forum and President of the recruitment company AfricSearch.  Meanwhile, the fabric of African SMEs has been largely abandoned, even though they are the ones who need answers the most. 20% of SMEs have access to finance through traditional channels. But to grow, they need resources.  The idea of this forum is to bring together banks, investment funds, business angels, venture capitalists and guarantee funds so that these different players can provide a holistic and combined response to the needs of SMEs ».

Lomé, a land of entrepreneurs

A return to francophone Africa after two editions in anglophone countries, South Africa and Uganda. In the Togolese capital. « Lomé is a commercial crossroads in West Africa. A land of entrepreneurs. Everyone knows the story of the Nana Benz, the remarkable women who drove the growth of Togolese and African trade. And all the young entrepreneurs we find in Togo, but also in the sub-region. Lomé is also an aviation hub – you know Asky – and a financial hub, with commercial and development banks operating there. And many Africans have never been to Togo. This is an opportunity.

You can’t ignore 80-90% of a private sector

Now, more than ever, is the time to meet the expectations of African SMEs. « When a crisis hits, it doesn’t have an immediate impact, which is what we’re seeing now, because not many SMEs in Africa have had the support they expected, unlike in the United States or Europe. What’s more, the banks that have been supporting them are now starting to suffer from the COVID-effect and the war in Ukraine, so it’s sort of a triple whammy for SMEs, which are suffering more as a result of the domino effect. We feel that if we don’t take more vigorous measures, many of them will disappear, despite their resilience, » says Didier Acouetey.

Against this backdrop, the event, which is also a plea in favor of African SMEs, will bring together all the players concerned – public and institutional leaders, financial institutions and SMEs – to reflect together on the best solutions for those who are driving Africa’s economic recovery in terms of growth, wealth creation and jobs.

« You can’t ignore 80-90% of a private sector. That explains the longevity of this event. Everyone is aware of the need to provide answers for SMEs, even if the answers are largely incomplete. The various players may think that through this forum we can adapt policies and instruments. Institutions like BADEA, which supports us every year with the Africa Guarantee Fund, AFREXIMBANK and others have decided to make SMEs the mainstay of their activities. Institutions that have understood that Africa’s development will be achieved through SMEs. « 

The issue of financing is at the heart of the Africa SME Champions Forum, which also invites everyone – SMEs and financial players alike – to adapt to each other and to the context. « The main players supporting SMEs, the commercial banks, are suffering, so action must come from international institutions and governments. The financial institutions that can more easily mobilize money on the markets are those that can inject massive resources into economies. In other words, specialized banks. We need to focus on specialized banks for SMEs, players who are involved in SMEs, who are specialized and who benefit from resources from financial institutions or through public policies to enable them to get out of this valley of death that they are in… ». He added: « There is also technical assistance. Many SMEs have organizational problems. They need this technical assistance, free of charge, to get back on their feet, to recruit, to find consultants to optimize their business, and so on… ».

 A celebration of African champions

Not forgetting capacity building, another important dimension of the Africa SME Champions Forum. « The question of how SMEs are organized, their human resources and their business model are essential because they facilitate access to finance and markets. Hence the importance of these masterclasses, which provide practical tools and a forum for exchange between SME managers, so that when they leave the forum they can say: ‘I have found solutions to my problems' ».

The Africa SME Champions Forum is also a celebration of African champions, with the traditional awards ceremony. It’s an opportunity to promote excellence made in Africa.

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