Sharm El Sheikh is an Egyptian resort town between the desert of the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea. Over the past six months, Sharm El Sheikh has played host to two international conferences and now it is at it again. This time for the Africa2018 forum.
I arrive a day earlier than schedule, and head straight for what would be my first interview.
Ms Chilese Kapwepwe is the first woman secretary general of the Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa COMESA. I ask her about the role of women in the African agenda.
“I think that there is a critical role for women to play in the development agenda for Africa because firstly we make up, obviously about half of the population”, she says.
Ms Kapwepwe explains further, “If we are not involved, we are not using quite a large proportion of the skills base and the experience that women bring to these positions. Secondly, I think diversity is important in decision making and it has been proved that even for example in corporate boards where you have diversification, you have much more gender sensitive and diversified decision making.”
With my interview with her gone well, the stage now seemed set for this coverage.
It is now Saturday, the first of the two days for the forum. There are over 1000 people comprising of some heads of states, policy makers and business leaders from across the continent all convened here to talk about the promotion of Intra Africa trade and several other development issues on the continent.
On this day, there are two events, one on youth, and the other on improving women representation. At the Women’s Empowerment Agenda event, Ugandan Educator and consultant Professor Maggie Kigozi lauded the achievements made with the increasing number of women representatives in governance on the continent.
But she also underscored the importance of doing more to sustain the progress. “At the pace at which we are going it would take us 200 years to achieve equality. So the other solution is affirmative action” she says.
“Where it was done before, like 30 percent members of parliament have women seats and that is provided for in the constitution and it had to implemented. So, it has been done, and it is now just a matter of moving that figure from 30 to 50 per cent and saying how do we make it work and it can work” Professor Kigozi adds.
Professor Margo Thomas is the founder and CEO, of the Women’s Economic Imperative. For her, there’s need for more women representatives and greater representation. “Greater voice for women in policy making, in civil society and in the private sector and these things all need to come together, so that at the end of the day everybody wins” she explains.
The discussions from women then moved on to economic matters on the second day. I am now with some government and business leaders; and I ask them what it would take to boost trade and investments in Africa.
“I think it has to be a win-win situation.” Emma Wade Smith, the UK’s trade commissioner for Africa tells me. While she wants to grow trade relations between the UK and Africa, it would be her delight to see more African products in the UK market.
And taking part later in a panel session on “investments and partnerships- the global perspective”, she spoke of her country’s leader Theresa May’s visit to three countries on the continent earlier in the year. That first official visit of the British prime minister is one Wade-Smith says was aimed at solidifying already existing and strong trade and diplomatic partnerships with the continent.
Also on the same panel with Emma Wade Smith was Adama Kone, Ivory Coast’s Minister of Economy and Finance. “If the interstate or intra-state trade is carried out as it should be, because the UEMOA has around 100 million people, and the CEDEAO is about 300 million people, then this is a very big market. If trade develops well between our different states, I think that each state will profit from it”. Mr. Kone says, when asked about the importance of boosting the intra Africa trade.
With over 200 start-ups represented, many showcasing their products and services at an exhibition at the forum, business is booming. But also is it on the streets of Sharm El Sheikh.
Some traders share some of their experiences with me. “Before now, the economy was not good. But now, we are the best. We have now a lot of products made in Egypt and a lot of people working”, one trader manages to tell me in his broken English.
Moustapha Hussein, another trader chooses to explain it politically. “Between President Mubarak and Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, was nothing. But with Al sisi, things have started picking up again, step by step, better than before”.
For many here, it is only right that their businesses experience a boost with the influx of leaders to their city discussing the way forward for economic growth.
After all, charity they say say begins at home.