«A prosperous Africa is in our interest»

11.02.2021, International cooperation

During Swiss Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis' official visit to North and West Africa from 7 to 13 February 2021, the priorities of the new MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa 2021-2024 strategies were at the heart of the discussions.

Laurent Matile
Laurent Matile

Expert on Enterprises and Development

«A prosperous Africa is in our interest»

"The lion economies"

According to the Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs, it would be wrong to limit Switzerland's role to conflict mediation or humanitarian aid; it would also be desirable to create opportunities for Swiss companies and to strengthen public-private partnerships. Interview with our Business and Development expert Laurent Matile to illustrate Alliance Sud's position.

In its first strategy for sub-Saharan Africa, the Swiss Government's stated aim is also to serve Switzerland's interests, including economic interests and those of its enterprises. Is this acceptable in your opinion?

What is in the interest of Switzerland (and of the members of the international community) is to contribute to a stable Africa, living in peace, a prosperous Africa, which can offer future prospects for its young people, women and minorities, in terms of decent jobs, and which allows greater participation in political, economic and social decision-making, also for disadvantaged populations.

We therefore welcome the fact that Swiss international cooperation is primarily aimed at supporting peace, security and the promotion of human rights, and that Switzerland remains committed to democracy and the rule of law and supports civil society initiatives in these areas.
These objectives also serve the interests of Swiss enterprises wishing to invest in these countries or to export products or services to them. A stable economic environment, where the rule of law and the protection of human rights are guaranteed, is a prerequisite for sustainable economic development and prosperity.

Shouldn't the focus instead be solely on strengthening local economies?

It is not a question of having a binary vision; above all, Switzerland's policies for sustainable development, including its foreign economic policy, must be coherent. We consider that the promotion of local enterprises in the African partner countries must remain a priority of Switzerland's international cooperation (IC). Supporting local entrepreneurship, SMEs - as the backbone of any economy - with a special focus on quality education for young people and their vocational training is an important tool in the fight against unemployment. Not forgetting support for equal access to the labour market for women and minorities.

What is the role of the Swiss private sector in strengthening local economies? Is a commitment desirable and if so, under what conditions?

What shall be expected from Swiss companies is that they guarantee "responsible business conduct", i.e. that they adhere to and implement the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights; specifically they should:
- respect human rights ;
- do not cause damage to the environment ;
- create decent jobs;
- make an equitable tax contribution, including ending aggressive practices of profit shifting to tax havens;
- do not engage in corrupt practices.

Beyond this, companies must invest over the long term (i.e. avoid purely speculative and/or short-term investments) and help establish linkages (upstream and downstream) with local businesses, to provide business opportunities for the local private sector and thus contribute to the diversification of the economic fabric of African countries.
Beyond contacts with State and business representatives, it would be desirable for Federal Council Cassis to talk to representatives of trade unions and civil society to find out their position and requests concerning the contribution of Swiss companies to the economic development of the countries in which Swiss International Cooperation is active.