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In a first for Africa’s Sahel region, entrepreneurs from Senegal to Chad assembled in Niamey, Niger, for the SahelInnov Expo last month to showcase their businesses and exchange ideas. From livestock to drones, all sectors were on display as a new generation of entrepreneurs and start-ups emerges with bold and innovative ways to address the challenges facing their countries and communities. Increasingly recognized as a strategic path to economic growth, supporting SMEs and entrepreneurs has a key impact on development and is generating more interest from governments in the Sahel.
Michaëlle Jean, the Secretary General of the International Organisation of La Francophonie, His Excellency Mahamadou Issoufou, the President the Republic of Niger, and Almoktar Allahoury, the CEO of CIPMEN.
Photo Credit: CIPMEN
Hosting the event was Niger SMEs Incubator Center (CIPMEN) whose CEO, Almoktar Allahoury, lauded the initiative. “This is the first time all stakeholders have come together: entrepreneurs, public officials, investors, academia and development partners in one place to discuss the many opportunities and remaining obstacles for the private sector — this is just what we need to take the region to the next level.”
Indeed, entrepreneurship could be especially important for this extremely poor region, with half the population living below the poverty line. Burkina Faso and Niger, for example, are among the fastest-growing economies in the world, yet their GDP per capita are just $395 and $652 respectively, compared to the Sub-Saharan African average of $1,647. A vibrant and active entrepreneurial ecosystem would therefore not only boost economic diversification and improve productivity, it also could prove the vital lever to tackling two of the Sahel’s biggest challenges: youth unemployment and climate change.
The devastating combination of climate change, mass migration, trafficking and the rise of violent extremism has resulted in recurring humanitarian crises and massive food insecurity, affecting more than 20 million people across the Sahel in 2015. Enduringly high birth rates, furthermore, will require millions of jobs to be created to respond to the needs of a rapidly growing and increasingly young population. Institutional reach remains weak and a state of protracted insecurity has taken root over vast swathes of territory.
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In the Northern tip of Mauritania lies the Nouadhibou Free Zone. Created in 2013 with financial and technical support from the World Bank, the first international partner to do so, it benefits from a 110-kilometer coastline on the Atlantic Ocean and an exclusive economic zone of 230,000 square kilometers. Its waters are among the most seafood-rich in the world, with a capacity of 1,500,000 tons per year.
The free zone offers investment opportunities in industries, logistics, tourism, retail business and tertiary sectors. However, creating a competitiveness hub in the fishing sector is one of the paramount objectives of the zone, given the importance of the sector for the Mauritanian economy. It represents 5.8 percent of the GNP, accounts for 18 percent of the total exports, and contributes to an estimated 40,000 jobs.
In March 2016, the World Bank approved the Nouadhibou Eco-Seafood Cluster Project (Projet Eco-Pôle Halieutique) with an International Development Association (IDA) grant of $7.75 million out of a total project amount of $9.25 million.
The objective of the project is to support the development of a fishing-sector hub in the Nouadhibou Free Zone aimed at promoting the sustainable management of fisheries and creating prosperity for the local communities.
While the Free Zone has already achieved critical results — such as the attraction of a few international investors in food processing and fish exports, the completion of commercial viability studies of the deep-seawater port and the airport, and the elaboration of a draft law on public-private partnerships (PPPs) — some constraints affecting more specifically the fishing sector remain. They include, among other things, the lack of productive diversification, an integrated value-chain, know-how about certification and international standards, and the octopus fishing quota system.
In addition, the lack of structured dialogue among the various public and private stakeholders in the fishing sector had been identified as a fundamental impediment to the development of the hub’s competitiveness.
Louise Cord, the World Bank Country Director, who recently visited Nouadhibou to officially launch the project with the President of the Free Zone, commended the Free Zone Authority for creating a Public-Private Dialogue (PPD) Task Force in 2015.
In Mozambique in 2003, it took an entrepreneur 168 days to start a business. Today, it takes only 19 days. That kind of transformation has major implications for ambitious men and women who are seeking to make a mark in business, or, as is often the case in Africa, seeking to move beyond a life in agriculture. In economies with sensible, streamlined regulations, all it takes is a good idea, and a couple of weeks, and an entrepreneur is in business.
This week, the World Bank Group launched its annual Doing Business 2016 report, which benchmarks countries based on their progress undertaking business reforms that make it easier for local businesses to start up and operate.
For the second straight year, Singapore topped the list, with New Zealand, Denmark, the Republic of Korea, and Hong Kong SAR, China, coming in closely behind.
In the developing world, standouts included Kenya and Costa Rica, both of which rose 21 positions; Mauritius, Sub-Saharan Africa’s top-ranked economy; Kazakhstan, which moved up 12 places to rank 41st among all countries; and Bhutan, which topped South Asia’s list of reformers. In the Middle East and North Africa, 11 of the region’s 20 economies achieved 21 reforms despite the challenges caused by a number of civil and interstate conflicts.
The reforms tracked by Doing Business are implemented by governments, but the results show up most in the private sector, which is critical to driving a country’s competitiveness and to creating jobs. Ensuring an enabling environment in which the private sector can operate effectively is an important marker of how well an economy is positioned to compete globally.
For those of us working with governments to help improve their investment climates – and to create a policy environment in which business regulatory costs are reasonable, access to finance is open, technology is shared, and trade flows within and across borders – the real work begins long before the Doing Business rankings are published.
In the World Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C), our mandate is to work with developing countries to unleash the power of their private sector for growth. Much of this work involves reforms in the very areas measured in the Doing Business report: starting a business, dealing with construction formalities, or trading across borders, among other factors.
Our experience working with clients confirms one of this year’s key findings: Regulatory efficiency and quality go hand-in-hand. A good investment climate requires well-designed regulations that protect property rights and facilitate business operations while safeguarding other people’s rights as well as their health, their safety and the environment.