Unleashing the power of SMEs

Commentary by H.E. Fatima Haram Acyl, Commissioner for Trade and Industry, African Union Commission

Africa’s SMEs are demonstrating the dynamism, innovation and excellence that we want to see replicated across the continent. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are at the heart of African economies. Their continued wellbeing, resilience and growth offer hope for the continent’s economic development and the structural transformation of its economies. SMEs remain critical contributors to employment and economic activities across the continent, even while operating sometimes in very difficult environments.

Notwithstanding their promise and potential, they are sometimes handicapped by productivity and competitiveness challenges that hinder their growth, and they are still largely shut out of critical global value chains. Addressing these competitiveness and productivity challenges is critical to unleashing the transformative power of African SMEs.

However, in spite of these challenges, we do have examples of companies that are world class in their own right and that have demonstrated through consistent excellence, along with a combination of capabilities, experiences and approaches, the qualities that have enabled them to succeed in Africa.

“SMEs remain critical contributors to employment and economic activities across the continent” 

This publication is an excellent way to showcase these success stories. In recent years, African countries have embarked on unparalleled reforms towards driving private-sector development. But we must do more. African countries must continue to work on the business environment and regulatory reforms that are essential to creating the right environment for these enterprises to grow. We must also continue to mobilise and integrate the critical public and private investments into vital infrastructure sectors including energy and transport, as well as ICT, which are necessary for addressing the productivity and competitiveness challenges that African firms face.

The African Union Commission is committed to the development of African enterprises, including SMEs. This includes establishing an AU SME Strategy with the vision of creating competitive, diversified and sustainable economies underpinned by dynamic, entrepreneurial and industrial sectors that generate employment, reduce poverty and foster social inclusion. These high-growth SMEs present examples of dynamism, innovation and excellence that we want to see replicated all over the continent.

I commend London Stock Exchange Group for this initiative, as I believe that it is critical to highlight African success stories and to develop a positive narrative about African enterprises. The companies highlighted in this report will indeed show that Africa is ready and open for business and that the continent offers exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs.