A partner in development across Africa

Over 50 years since its humble beginnings, Business Council for Africa West and Southern is becoming a pan-African force to reckon with...Can you afford not to be a member? BCA Vice Chairman Clive Carpenter reports.

Life begins as the West Africa Committee (WAC)
In early 1956 a group of businessmen working for major British companies with interests principally in Nigeria, Gold Cost and Sierra Leone combined to form the West Africa Committee (WAC). The aim was "to aid and stimulate the economic development of West Africa through business". It was a time when major political changes were beginning to emerge. Just a year later Ghana became the first country in sub-Sahara Africa, apart from Liberia, to gain independence. It was followed by Nigeria in 1960 and Sierra Leone in 1961.
From its inception, the WAC aimed to have an inclusive and fully representative membership. A system of eligibility was adopted to ensure that the major manufacturing and service industries, together with trading companies, agriculture and mining, were balanced, and a permanent resident representative was established in Lagos. The aim of WAC was to create a clearing house for trade information and intelligence on import and exchange controls, taxation and economic planning by developing close contacts with British and West African governments to establish a business environment which would facilitate trade and encourage investment.
During the first 10 years, membership of WAC rose from the original 31 companies to 148. To maintain a balance of interests, and to operate effectively in the rapidly changing political situation in West Africa, an Executive Committee was formed in 1961 with 10 members representing oil, mining, shipping, banking, accounting, plantations and traders. By 1966 new technologies and indigenous industries were becoming established and new members included computer firms and property companies.

The New Era of Independence 
As the rest of West Africa gained independence, the activities of UK-based multinationals caused WAC services to expand into the major Francophone countries of the region. Correspondents were established in Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon and Senegal. This also widened the membership, which rose to 210 by 1976 with companies from France, Netherlands and the United States recognising the benefits of the service, especially for new service companies such as airlines. These developments, and the economic and political developments in the period, also caused WAC to respond by amending its objectives to read "through contacts and representations the aim is to facilitate effective contributions by members towards the economic development of West African countries" - a significant shift of emphasis.
In its work on behalf of industrial and commercial enterprises, WAC had always been pragmatic and the personal experience of members who lived and worked in the region kept it attuned to the needs of the region on which it is focused.
By 1986, membership included several of the new electronics companies like Plessey, Binatone, and Rank Xerox, along with pharmaceutical companies like Roussel and Wellcome.

Meeting the challenge of globalisation
Through the 90’s, WAC recognised the beginnings of the globalisation of trade and the increasing maturity of many local enterprises in West Africa. The UK office was involved closely with Tropical Africa Advisory Group and the UK Department of Trade and Industry, concentrating on trade and investment promotion work as well as links with the Overseas Development Division of the European Commission in Brussels. Contacts were also developed with the World Bank and USAID as well as ECGD and ODA.

Change of name
With the arrival of the millennium, there was a major change as a result of a far-reaching review of the organisation, the environment in which it was operating, and the needs of members. A management group set up by the Executive Board developed a comprehensive business plan. WAC became the West Africa Business Association (WABA) and the Mission Statement recognised the present era by "promoting business links and encouraging the development of business opportunities both in and with West Africa". At the same time, bearing in mind the development of The Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), WABA recognised the need to develop its Francophone links and expertise and continues to take steps to increase its Francophone resources.

Linkages and formation of the Southern Africa Business Forum (SABF) 
In 2005, in order to widen the network, WABA established SABF as a successor to the defunct Southern Africa Business Association thus giving WABA~SABF an unrivalled pan-African dimension enabling it to keep in tune with the rapidly developing trade links between West and Southern Africa.
Another valuable link came from WABA-SABF’s membership of the British African Business Association (BABA). Via the BABA membership, WABA~SABF was linked directly into the European Union (EU) and the influential, 2000 member, European Business Council for Africa and the Mediterranean (EBCAM). EBCAM is the principal private sector interlocutor of the EU institutions and African countries on matters affecting the interests of the private sector in Africa.

The 50th Anniversary 
At its 50th anniversary in 2006, WABA~SABF looked again at ways to improve further its services. It is actively encouraging the involvement of the younger generation of executives and entrepreneurs from UK and West Africa to carry the association forward.
The well-respected Monthly Newsletters, which are a key benefit of membership, have been supplemented by networking meetings, e-mail reports, news flashes and frequent high-level briefings with British, West and Southern African, High Commissioners and Ambassadors.
Since the year 2000, Africa has moved up to the top of the global agenda. WABA-SABF has been aligned to, and has made significant contributions to, many of the key Africa initiatives which include the development of the Millennium Development Goals, the New Partnership for Africa's Development, the Commission for Africa, and the Gleneagles' commitments made by the G8. The organisation is also a co-sponsor of Business Action Africa, which is the successor to the CfA. BCA's main aim within these is the active promotion of "Capacity Building".
WABA-SABF also accepted its social responsibility to the communities within which its members live and work and supports several humanitarian initiatives especially Sight Savers International which operates extensively throughout West Africa.

The Business Council for Africa (BCA)
In April 2009, BABA changed its name to BCA UK and WABA~SABF followed suit and became BCA West & Southern, enhancing pan-African links. The Eastern Africa Association chose to retain its name for the time being but strengthened its links in UK. BCA UK, BCA West & Southern and the EAA are all co-located in Vincent St. in Westminster. This common office location encourages and facilitates increasing co-operation and partnership for the overall benefit of members of each organisation.
In the autumn of 2009, the Britain Nigeria Business Council (BNBC), which for over 30 years had focused on the development of trade and investment between Britain and Nigeria, was subsumed into BCA. A ‘Nigeria Desk’ was then established in BCA in recognition of Nigeria’s position as the ‘giant of Africa’ with tremendous future potential.

Overseas Representation
BCA is now represented in 22 countries across the region, 13 in West Africa, including 5 in-country councils, and 9 across Southern Africa. Subsidiaries with thriving local memberships can be found in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal as well as resident representatives in Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, the DRC and Madagascar.

The Future 
In common with current policy, BCA believes that a responsible and profitable private sector has a crucial role to play in the development process. Through the organisation’s promotion of its members’ business links across the whole of West and Southern Africa, with strong European linkages, it can play an important role in the economic development of Africa, especially within the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West Africa) region. The organisation now has over 400 members, all committed to this end.

BCA’s Mission
The overall mission of the Business Council for Africa, West & Southern, is to “encourage better business in Africa for the benefit of members and the sustainable economic development of the countries concerned.”
This is achieved through six main areas of activity:
1. Information – sourcing and dissemination of authoritative information on the countries comprising the two regions, covering commercial, economic and political intelligence via confidential, economic and political reports and regular business briefings, including with VIPs.
2. Networking – promotion of networking opportunities for members, drawing together offshore businessmen, their counterparts in West, Central and Southern Africa and luminaries in the regions’ governments and public sectors.
3. Influence – propagation of the views of members on improving the business environment in the regions to both local and offshore governments. Also, discreet lobbying of these governments and international organisations on behalf of the collective membership.
4. Help – practical assistance to members doing business in the regions, specific business arrangements (e.g. intervention, often at Ministerial and Ambassadorial level), and access to certain advantageous arrangements in local hotels etc.
5. Promotion – positive promotion of member companies through the Council’s website, publications and events through the year, together with contacts in the media and other important trade, business, lobbying and African interested bodies.
6. Capacity Building – Promoting and supporting capacity building in its widest sense in the countries of West & Southern Africa.

Conclusion
Africa’s economic development is largely reliant upon the development of a sustainable private sector. The Business Council for Africa, West & Southern, works to facilitate this through its membership network. Over 400 members spread across all of West and Southern Africa and in the United Kingdom, are kept well briefed by BCA’s various activities – newsletters, briefings and events, networking, influence and advocacy – which collectively serve to promote trade and investment across the continent.
BCA hopes in the near future to move towards a pan-African coverage, working and partnering with other business associations as necessary, to create a membership base with critical mass which will truly be a force for good in terms of Africa’s sustainable development.

Business Council for Africa
2 Vincent Street
London
SW1P 4LD
UK

Telephone +44(0)20.7828.5544, Fax +44(0)20.7828.5251,

E-mail  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For more information about BCA, see the website at www.bcafrica.co.uk

(Acknowledgement is hereby made of the work done by BCA Vice Chairman, Gordon Hutt, in capturing BCA’s history)

Alain Charles Publishing, University House, 11-13 Lower Grosvenor Place, London, SW1W 0EX, UK
T: +44 20 7834 7676, F: +44 20 7973 0076, W: www.alaincharles.com

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