Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cheetah Index Interviews the Director of Business Action for Africa

Excerpt from the interview between the Cheetah Index and Zahid Torres-Rahman, Director, Business Action for Africa.

"Below is the interview with Mr. Zahid Torres-Rahman.

Please tells us a little bit about your personal story and how you became involved in this endeavor?

Ever since my time as a teacher in Zimbabwe in the late 80s, I have been passionate about Africa. After a career in the private sector, I joined the UK Government and ultimately joined UK Prime Minister Blair's Commission for Africa to head the work of economic growth and private sector development. 2005 was an exciting time for those of us wanting to support African-led development. But for me there were three things very wrong with the headlines on Africa at the time.

First, the non-government organizations, while very successful in raising Africa high up the policy agenda, were missing a big part of the story. In focusing on aid and debt relief, hardly any attention was being paid to the priorities of Africans themselves: the opportunity to get jobs, grow their businesses and trade in a fair world market.

Second, Africa was being portrayed as if it were one country on the brink of disaster. In fact the Africa that any one who knows Africa will tell you about, is one of huge diversity and immense opportunity, the role of business as the drivers of long-term growth and poverty reduction had been all but written out of the story.

We set up Business Action for Africa ( as an informal network of businesses, business organisations and development partners to take action on these fronts – to provide an alternative voice on the policies needed to make poverty history; to promote a more balanced view of Africa; and to showcase and promote the role of business in delivering positive change for Africa and its people.

So how exactly does doing business in Africa help to improve living conditions on the continent and where does Business Action for Africa fit into this conversation?

Nearly all poor people are in the private sector: as producers or employees - whether this is in small family farms and small businesses or as part of the supply chain of a large multinational. In a survey of 60,000 poor people published back in 2000, the majority saw self-employment, getting a job or starting a business as the best way to escape poverty. That is, poor people themselves see business as integral to their strategies for improving their living conditions.

Business Action for Africa tells this story and calls on governments and international donors to help small businesses grow. We also showcase the role that larger national and international companies can play in fighting poverty through their core business: creating jobs, building opportunities for small businesses as suppliers and distributors, developing products and services that meet the needs of poor people, and paying taxes that then go on to fund social spending.

When did you begin to see the organization's efforts yield fruit both in terms of achieving the main three objectives of Business Action for Africa and with respect to attracting some of the corporate sponsors that you have? Was there ever a time when you felt like this journey would be an uphill battle?

The focus of Business Action for Africa is to catalyze business-led collective action. In addition to our advocacy work and best-practice sharing, we have supported a number of projects on the ground. One of these is called Business Action Against Corruption. BAAC is founded on the view that change requires indigenous and international private sector actors to find practical ways to collaborate with governments to tackle corruption. Led by organizations like Royal Dutch Shell, the Commonwealth Business Council, and Southern Africa Forum Against Corruption, there are now programmes running in Botswana, Cameroon, Malawi, Nigeria and Zambia."

Of course, I love your comments. But, if you can't comment at this particular time- but would like to let us know that you were here; please sign and View my guestbook



africa search