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ICF striving to remove barriers facing doing business in Africa

ICF is a unique partnership between private companies, development partners and governments. It works to improve the investment climates in African countries by removing barriers and lowering costs and time to doing business. Omari Issa is the Chief Executive Officer of the Investment Climate Facility for Africa (ICF).

Mr. Issa has extensive business experience in the public and private sectors in Africa, Asia and Latin America. He has first-hand experience of the realities of doing business in Africa. He took part in the fifth African Economic Conference held recently in Tunis. Interview:

What does ICF stand for?

The Investment Climate Facility for Africa (ICF) works to remove the barriers that exist to doing business in Africa, recognising that a healthy investment climate is vital for the continent’s economic growth.

We are a unique and unprecedented partnership between private companies, development partners and governments, founded on the principle that African governments and the private sector need to work together to enable Africa to finally realise its very real investment potential.

We are the only pan-African body, based in Africa, explicitly and exclusively focused on improving the continent’s investment climate. We work with receptive African governments to systematically remove constraints to investment in order to make the continent an even better place to do business.
ICF is committed to delivering tangible and sustainable change over a seven year time frame and will measure our progress solely on our contribution to economic activity.

What are the key projects ICF is involved in?

ICF’s strategy of delivering initiatives in countries or regions where there is strong ownership by government and business leaders of the project process paid dividends during 2009. A number of project partnerships have already reached their successful completion, including projects to build the capacity of commercial courts in Rwanda, upgrade the information systems of customs agencies in Senegal and improve business registration and permitting in Burkina Faso. With a number of other projects delivering ongoing progress, and a further fifteen added to ICF’s portfolio in 2009, the impact and influence of ICF is growing rapidly.

The delivery of tangible improvements for both businesses and partner governments through our ongoing project activity has widened demand for ICF intervention and increased awareness of the importance of investment climates. A growing number of governments across Africa are now taking proactive steps to remove obstacles to doing business.

ICF will continue to support partner governments by sharing learnings and expertise from ongoing and completed projects. A good example of this is our project in Mauritius to modernise the Judiciary, for which we have been able to draw upon our experience of working on a similar and successful project in Rwanda. Likewise, our project to improve business registration in Mozambique has drawn heavily from our existing project in Cape Verde. We will also continue to support governments by facilitating dialogue with businesses and investors and co-funding projects that meet our selection criteria.

What is currently your particular focus?

Particular focus is being put  on increasing our geographical coverage and opening up relationships with new governments. Continued dialogue with the business community, both within Africa and internationally, is important for ICF’s ongoing success. With government support for investment climate improvements increasing, it is vital that the private sector is engaged in helping to identify priorities for intervention and contributing to the process of change. At present, SMEs in Africa account for just 10 per cent of GDP, in stark contrast to the contribution of SMEs in high income countries, which stands at more than 50 per cent. It is therefore especially important we target areas which will help Africa’s small and medium enterprises, which have a fundamental role to play in helping the continent fulfill its economic potential.

ICF has made considerable progress in its first three years of operational activity. With continued support from government and business leaders across the continent, we will maintain our track record of delivering high quality projects that have a clear and lasting impact on the ease of doing business and the climate for investment across Africa.

Are involved in assessing your activities and related achievements, and how?

In 2009, ICF commissioned an independent performance review to secure objective analysis of its strategy, operations and achievements to date. The review, conducted by independent consultants Nexus Associates, and covering the period from ICF’s inception to 30 September 2009, was based on a review of ICF activities through project visits in several countries and over 150 interviews with key ICF stakeholders.

The two-year appraisal confirmed the importance of ICF as a credible enabler of investment climate change across Africa. It highlighted ICF’s success in securing support from international donors and private corporations and in developing a sizeable and strategically focused project portfolio that is systematically removing barriers to doing business in Africa. The role of ICF, and the importance of investment climates, is now well communicated across the continent and there is an ever-increasing demand for ICF support, services and funding.
In particular, the review recognized the validity and effectiveness of the ICF business model, which places strong emphasis on the importance of project ownership by government and business leaders in host countries. By working hand in hand with receptive governments and the private sector to remove business constraints, ICF has successfully facilitated tangible change in a relatively short period of time. Indeed, several projects have already reached successful conclusions and delivered a positive, measurable impact on the investment climate.

ICF was also commended for complementing the activities of other donor organisations and filling funding gaps in an expeditious manner through its commitment to a short funding cycle, with the entire process from project application to agreement generally taking less than six months.
The review also highlighted several forthcoming challenges for ICF as it seeks to capitalise on its successes to date and to broaden its reach even further.

What about your stakeholders?

African Governments remain ICF’s primary stakeholder and beneficiary. They have a profound role to play when it comes to transforming the investment climates of their respective countries.

ICF also looks to African governments to identify priorities for improvement and help facilitate the necessary changes.
This being said, a number of multinational corporations with a strong presence in Africa provide financial support to ICF, as well as skills and insights into the realities of doing business on the continent.

As for ICF’s development partners, they provide financial support to ICF, as well as playing a key advisory role through the provision of expertise and insight. ICF’s development partners include the Governments of Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands , Norway,  South Africa , United Kingdom.
ICF is also supported by African Development Bank and International Finance Corporation.

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