AfricaDays 2019 Combines Electricity, Music and Startups
Bringing electricity to rural Africa, providing keys for the continent’s 100 best startups and harnessing the potential of African music. These were the highlights of the third edition of HEC AfricaDays which featured leading proponents from each of these fields, all offering “African solutions for global issues”.
For the third consecutive year, the HEC International Affairs department joined forces with the MBA Africa Club and the HEC AfricAntilles Association for an event devoted to key sectors in the development of the continent. In 2017, AfricaDays covered the continent’s entrepreneurship, digital transformation and social responsibility, while 2018 focused on agribusiness. For the latter, the ex-MBA Africa Club President Stephane Nuetsha had nothing but praise: “It was undoubtedly the highlight of my HEC experience,” he said in a transmission of a recorded interview from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where he is the Director General of CMA CGM.
This third edition featured two panels, the release of the 100 African startups to invest in, as well as a pitch by Azimio, a startup focused on waste, energy and the agro-industry. “Our school’s commitment to Africa is a long-term one,” declared HEC’s International Director François Collin. “We put our expertise in entrepreneurship at the service of African countries by contributing to the training of future African decision-makers.”
Africa’s Sustainable Energy Drive
One of these decision-makers, Judi Wakhungu, believed the event was so important she flew in the same day from the One Summit Planet in Nairobi to deliver the conference’s keynote speech. The former Minister of Environment in the Uhuru Kenyatta government is currently representing her country’s interests as Ambassador for France, Portugal and Serbia. Wakhungu began by saying she was bringing a personal message from Kenya’s current Minister of Energy, Charles Keter: “The Minister asked me to congratulate HEC Paris for this initiative which underlines the importance of finding viable solutions to Africa’s search for renewable energy.”
This environmental specialist and geologist was also part of the opening panel entitled “Are out-of-the-box solutions in rural areas the solution for Africa?” By Wakhungu’s side for the debate were UNEP Energy Africa’s Program Manager Meseret Zemedkun, the founder of Baobab+, Alexandre Coster and Schneider Electric’s Vice President for Economic Development in Africa and the Middle East, Paul-François Cattier. Guided by the moderator, HEC Associate Dean for MBA Andrea Masini, they explored new means of sustainable energy production to answer Africa’s persistent energy supply problems, including leveraging renewable resources such as solar and geothermal power.
“We have answered the calls from several nations to build an African Geothermal Center for Excellence,” announced Dr. Zemedkun who is herself a specialist in geothermic and Earth science. Like the rest of the panelists, she stressed the importance of education, the harnessing of skilled management profiles to build new energy and distribution models and the need to think out-of-the-box to answer the long-term challenges in this sector.
Where to Invest in Africa
The call to support innovation by these speakers has been the rallying-cry behind Christian Kamayou’s three-year-old crusade he has baptized My African Startup. Since 2015, this unique African platform has served as a launching-pad for African-related startups. Kamayou chose AfricaDays 2019 to reveal his platform’s list of 100 African startups to invest in this year. “Two years ago I started this private sector initiative,” he told the audience at the Bellon Auditorium, “because I realized just how hard it is for startups to have the visibility and funding for their projects.” The former HEC graduate pointed out that his efforts to turn this tide appear to be contributing to a general upward trend: funding for African-based startups has quadrupled since 2015, to reach $1,163 million in 2018.
For an analysis of this tendency, the AfricaDays audience was treated to a brilliant exposé by HEC student Souleymane Bamba. Bamba was one of a trio from HEC Junior Conseil hired to compile the list of the continent’s most promising startups. “There are many indicators that are showing we are at the beginning of a venture-capital ecosystem in Africa like we’ve seen in the 1990s in Europe and 2000 in China,” he said before enumerating a few: “Reverse migration; development hubs in Nairobi, Cape Town, Lagos; and investment growth.” Paraphrasing the Ivorian Minister for Energy, Abdourahmane Cissé, he concluded: “Africa has already started its startup revolution, it’s not waiting for us.”
Representing the Continent through Music
This confidence in the future coursed through the evening’s second panel, centered on the music industry. It was articulated by six speakers with a wide berth of experience: from musicians like Blick Bassy and Tina Mweni to kingpins in Sony Music (Michael Ugwu), Radio Nova (Liz Gomis) and Trace TV (Cleopatra Mukula) as well as a copyright specialist from the SACEM (Akotchayé Okio). “No one can understand the market like we can,” stated Michael Ugwu, General Manager of Sony Music West Africa. His company recently opened an office in Lagos, Nigeria which will be the new hub for operations in West Africa.
Ugwu’s optimism was shared by Cleopatra Mukula, the Segment Manager at Trace Mziki Africa. “We use music to sell and promote Africa,” she said in a passionate opening speech. “We talk to 250 million Swahili speakers worldwide, and connect these diasporas through music and culture.” The law graduate went on to thank HEC graduates who, when she first arrived in France in 2008, helped her grow her passion into a profession. “That’s why I’m very excited to be here to share my experiences and insights so you can take this energy and develop it.”
Over 150 people attended this third AfricaDays, an event which has become a cornerstone in the school’s ambition to further develop its ties with Africa. “We hope this will mark a long-lasting and fruitful cooperation between HEC Paris and African experts and leaders of the academic and economic world,” stated the organizers, before underlining the school’s desire to invest in a sustainable and inclusive development of the continent.