The African employer, who fails to become more information-technology savvy tomorrow than he or she is today, will certainly miss the train of change that is cruising through Africa at such dizzying speed. That was, in essence, the clearest message that participants took with them from a symposium on the place of the African employer in the Africa of tomorrow, that held at the GICAM head office in Douala from September 26 – 28, 2012. GICAM serves as a shelter for many of Cameroon’s employers’ organisations that, to a considerable extent, serve as the spine of the Cameroonian economy.
That fact was clearly articulated by Cameroon’s Minister of Labor and Social Insurance, Mr. Gregoire Owona, who was on hand to declare the symposium open. He lauded the important role GICAM members play in the Cameroonian economy and praised their continual collaboration with his government in its relentless effort to boost the economy and create jobs in the country. The Honorable Minister, who was accompanied by his ministerial colleague of Employment and Vocational Training, Mr. Zacharie Perevet, thanked the Geneva-based International Organisation of Employers (IOE), led by its Secretary General, New Zealand-born Brent Wilton, and the International Labor Organisation (ILO), led by that organisation’s country representative, Congolese-born Mrs. Dayina Mayenga, for sponsoring the Douala symposium. Participants came, for the most part, from Francophone Africa, although a few Lusophone and Hispanophone delegations were also present. Anglophone Africa’s employers’ organisations were scheduled to meet two months later on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.
Both Mr. Wilton (IOE) and Mrs. Mayenga (ILO), thanked GICAM for hosting the symposium and pledged their respective organisations’ readiness to assist Africa’s employers’ organisations to meet the challenges of the African economy of tomorrow, which, they warned, would be largely driven by information and communication technology.
Toeing the line with the previous speakers, Mr. Francis Sanzouango, Senior Adviser for Africa at the Geneva-based employers’ organisation ACT/EMP, expressed his organisation’s delight to work with the Douala Symposium to ensure that African employers’ organisations succeed to carve a solid niche for themselves in a world that is changing at breath-taking speed. He was, however, confident that they would emerge from the three-day Douala meeting with clear objectives to confront the immense and sometimes scary challenges of a world that is constantly changing.
For his part, GICAM’s President André Fotso, expressed his organisation’s delight in hosting the symposium, calling it a unique opportunity for Africa’s employers’ associations to x-ray the challenges they face as a result of the profound political, economic and social mutations of the moment. He said with the all-pervasive economic crises rocking the economies of developed nations, everyone’s binoculars now seemed trained on the increasingly vibrant and robust emerging economies of the world, notably India, China, Brazil and Africa. The decade of the nineties saw Africa’s economies grow from 2.1% in 2000 to 3.1% in 2009, an impressive growth rate that did not come without its own share of challenges, which employers’ organisations have had to cope with. These include advanced technological developments for which our economies are not always prepared.
He then hoped that Africa’s employers’ organisations would leave the Douala symposium better equipped to lobby governments for recognition of the vital role their companies play in economic growth and job-creation. This would only be possible if employers’ organisations were to operate their businesses in an ethical manner, intensify the fight against corruption in all its forms, cease to operate in disperse ranks, and cooperate with similar organisations in the Diaspora, which are generally technologically better equipped to face the turbulence of the global economy.
In an ensuing animated and humour-spiced presentation, the main presenter, Mauritius-born, international consultant, Fareed Jaunbocus, strongly urged African employers to join the fast lane on the super highway of information and communication technology, failing which, their businesses would not survive. African employers, Fareed emphasized, will only have themselves to blame if they fail to board the train of change that is cruising through Africa and the world and causing so much panic to those who fear change. You either adapt or your businesses would be swept away by what he described as a real ‘tsunami’ spun by information and communication technology in the world.
How should African employers adapt to such change? “Well, get your workforce up to speed in information and communication technology and it will help you cope with the inevitable changes. African employers must make the training of their employees an integral part of their survival kit. Training must be seen as a capital investment, not a mere expense item that can be ignored at will,” he stressed. “Give the young people you employ a place aboard this train of change, give them the necessary training and they will help you stay afloat in a world that is changing too fast even for the most advanced economies of the world today.”
The bench-mark examples in Africa today that came up for praise, all seemed to be from Anglophone Africa: Mauritius, Swaziland, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, among others. As to why Anglophone Africa was taking the lead in this area, the consensus seemed to point to the near or total absence of government interference in the running of employers’ organisations. With a free-hand, the said organisations are able to put in place real, robust and vibrant structures driven by information and communication technology. The example of Kenya, where even the Presidency cannot detect terms to the employers’ organisation, came up for unanimous praise.
This was a clear contrast to what is happening in Francophone Africa, where it is not rare for leaders of employers’ organisations to be appointed by government. Such organisations in some countries, notably Guinea, the Comoros Islands, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Madagascar, to name only a few, easily and freely fuse with government-run chambers of commerce, with officials owing their appointment to government. When government appoints officials to oversee the functioning of employers’ associations, it is naturally tempted to dictate the tune.
In countries that have unfortunately been ravaged by wars, military coups, or other civil or political strife – Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, the DRC, Madagascar, Comoros, among others — employers’ organisations sometimes find themselves caught between two or more opposing forces vying for political power. The representative of Côte d’Ivoire painted a pathetic picture of the struggle his country’s employers’ organisations had to put up, at the height of his country’s political turmoil to stay neutral as two rival governments vied for their support. The representative of Madagascar said her country’s employers’ organisations were compounded by the fact the two main contenders for political power are both powerful businessmen. Each of them expects and calls for the support of the business community for their individual causes, sometimes taking reprisal measures on those who fail to support them.
With the clear exception of Senegal, whose democratic institutions are serving the employers’ associations well, the other Francophone employers’ associations seem to walk a very tight political rope as they operate, for the most part, under the heel of their respective governments. Even though the situation of the Cameroonian employers may not, at first sight, appear to be as bad as the cases cited above, government’s interference in their activities is still an issue. Some businessmen decried what they saw as ‘reprisals’ meted out to ‘recalcitrant’ businesses, in terms of ‘unjustified’ taxes and excessive customs duties. They also lamented the all-pervasive poor infrastructures — especially the degraded road network throughout the country as well as the generally unreliable internet connections, erratic electricity and water supply, among others.
The final resolutions of the symposium call on the African employer to, among other things, fully embrace information and communication technology as an indispensable tool of growth for the African job market of tomorrow.
Douala, December 13, 2012