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Private sector needs to come to the party
Posted Thu, 03 Mar 2005

Kenyan industrialist Dr Manu Chandaria says business leaders have to be ready to confront Africa�s leadership if sanity is to be brought back to the political systems of most African countries. He wants business leaders to be bold and speak out against politicians if positive change is to take place. By Patrick Mwangi

Unless and until governments and the private sector in Africa sit together to seek solutions to problems, real growth is not going to take place.

�If the private sector does nothing to confront these issues, in 20 years it will have lost sight of the fact that it too needs to change and adapt to a rapidly changing world,� said Kenyan tycoon Dr Manu Chandaria at the recent Eskom African Business Leaders Forum (EABLF) in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was one of the key speakers.

Dr Chandaria, 75, is the chairman of the Comcraft Group of Companies, a family chain of businesses that spans 40 countries, employing thousands of people and grossing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. He is a past chairman of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, an industrial lobby group of industrialists, and currently chairs the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, an umbrella body bringing together 200 private sector organisations.

Declaring the 21st century the century for Africa, Dr Chandaria termed the EABLF a �tremendous achievement,� describing it as a platform to create future leaders and saying it stood out because it was a �total African initiative.�

The EABLF was organised by Business in Africa magazine, and sponsored by Eskom Holdings Limited, MTN, Honeywell, National Ports of South Africa, and South African Broadcasting Corporation.

Dr Chandaria says the biggest problem in Africa today is poverty, which cannot be reduced if wealth is not created. He laments that despite the private sector being the engine for economic development, creation of wealth and employment, � in reality, more often than not the private sector is able to do little more than look after its own interests by manouvering to make the best of whatever situation it finds itself in and movement forward is no more than half-hearted.�

He decries the dominance of politics in the body politic of Africa. �Politics is so dominant that the economy has never been given a chance,� he says, noting that while there was politics in developed countries, it did not play as much a role at centre stage as it did in African countries.

He wants the private sector to create umbrella bodies to develop the capacity to articulate crucial issues as stakeholders and anticipate when policies were being planned. �The order of the day has been that the Government simply pronounces policies and very often creates more controls and impediments,� he said. �More often than not, rather than facilitating business, such pronouncements force the private sector to waste valuable time finding solutions, repairing damage done to the business environment, or trying to convince Government that certain things must be changed.�

Turning to Kenya, Dr Chandaria highlights the Kenya Government and private sector�s new partnership, called the National Economic and Social Council and chaired by the country�s president, Mwai Kibaki. He said that the new government had made clear they wanted an umbrella body for joint formulation of policy. �So we sat together and worked out a methodology of change so that we maintained a continuous state of responsible dialogue with Government.�

He said despite the fact that people were feeling disillusioned after the high expectations that followed the massive electoral victory of the Government in 2002, a lot of good was being done.�The question is how we can capitalise on that good.�

He lauds the Kenya Government for trying to create a corruption free system, reform the public service, and end political wrangling. �If they can put this right, nothing can stop Kenya from attaining its original leadership. Remember that Kenya has always led amongst its neighbours.�

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