Remarks to the Conference on the Importance of Business to Democratic Governance and the Signing of the Ouagadougou Declaration
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso | January 16-17, 2018
Your Excellency, President Kabore, the host of this conference, President Issoufou of Niger, President Keita of Mali, Members of Parliament, honorable ministers, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank the Government of Burkina Faso for hosting this remarkable conference and specifically President Kabore for his leadership in launching this uniquely important initiative. This conference will culminate with the signing of the Ouagadougou Declaration that advances the idea that business, government and civil society must work together if a prosperous and democratic society is to be sustained.
I am here today wearing two hats. First, as the Chairman of the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). CIPE is the leader in providing workable business and private sector-led solutions to the challenges of economic and democratic development. We learned a long time ago that economic well-being is at the heart of a stable society and that real and sustainable prosperity can only be achieved if private enterprise is encouraged and enabled.
CIPE’s global mission is to strengthen democracy through private enterprise development, market oriented reforms and public-private dialogue. We are the only organization in the world to do this work. CIPE is one of the core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and is affiliated with the United States Chamber of Commerce.
My second hat is that of Senior Advisor to the President and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce. The century-old US Chamber represents over three million members across the United States and is represented by more than 120 American Chambers across the globe. It is the largest business federation in the world.
Africa is a key strategic partner for US business, and the Chamber’s Africa Business Center is focused upon increasing trade and investment that will not only create new and innovative opportunities for both US and African companies, but will result in closer ties between the United States, Burkina Faso and its neighbors. Over the next two days we will be discussing how the business community, working closely with government and civil society, can create better conditions for economic growth, political stability, and lasting security.
One of Winston Churchill’s many famous quotations is that “Democracy is the worst form of government . . . except for all the others.” What we know is that unlike other forms of government, democracy provides the long-term conditions that protect the rights and freedoms of all people, ensures that governments can be successful if they’re accountable for their performance, and encourages all citizens to participate in the political process and this includes the “voice of business” — the theme of this conference. But, democracy must be nurtured; it certainly should not be taken for granted; and it is too often misunderstood.
Across Africa and elsewhere in the world, we have seen a growing and dangerous mis-perception that democracy doesn’t work, that market economies are failing and that violent extremism is the only answer. But when we look a little closer the real villains are readily apparent: weak governance and slow economic growth. And the cause of these conditions is known to everyone: increasing corruption, flawed elections, limited educational opportunities and fake economic solutions which lead directly to a growing inequality between the rich and poor, men and women and different geographic regions.
Although market capitalism and global trade have substantially reduced worldwide poverty, too many citizens believe that the new economic opportunities are not being shared equitably; that the benefits are only for a few; and, worst of all, that the situation can only be corrected through violence and social upheaval. And they couldn’t be more wrong!
It is important to mention that even with an ever-growing threat to social stability in many parts of the world, West Africa has emerged as one of the bright spots for democratic development. Notwithstanding the events in Mali, the recent political transition in the Gambia and the progress that Burkina Faso has experienced in strengthening democracy must be acknowledged and applauded.
An overarching goal of this conference is to remind ourselves that the secret of successful democratic governance is the dynamic relationship between business, government and civil society. Not one of these three segments – alone – can create an economically healthy and socially stable country. They need each other, in the same way that sick patients need well trained doctors and good medicines and a willingness to follow the physician’s advice. If any one piece is missing, the patient never really gets well. And the same holds true for these three pillars of any stable society.
Business . . . is the only entity which creates real jobs, pays real taxes, generates real products and provides real goods and services for all citizens. But, for the private sector to flourish – and create that growing economy – it needs government (believe it or not). Government is the only entity that can make and fairly enforce the rules which encourage – not discourage — fair competition and a predictable business environment. And, it’s government that must manage the institutions which reliably provide public safety, health services, an educated workforce and an independent judiciary – all ingredients which businesses need.
Finally, government needs civil society because these private organizations – be they citizens groups, NGOs or even the press — provide services to the socially marginalized and play a key role in holding government accountable for its actions or inaction. And like it or not, we all do better when someone is watching the store.
Think of this relationship in terms of futbol and what makes the game great. The teams are the business community and we like nothing better than when they fiercely compete and the best team wins. In business terms, the winners make more money, hire more people and open more stores, and the other competitors are motivated to improve — to make better products, sell at a better price, or hire more talented people.
But that’s not the end of the story . . . because it’s only a good game if you have a good referee. And, that’s the job of government. It makes and enforces the rules so that the competition is fair. And it gives red cards and yellow cards to those who don’t play by the rules.
Finally, some of the spectators in the stands are citizens’ organizations – civil society — and their job is to watch the game to ensure that the umpires and referees are fair and unbiased, because if the referees take sides the contest is flawed, everyone will know it and the game of futbol we all love will have lost the trust of the people.
And, that’s what democratic governance is all about: earning the trust of the people when they see that government, business and civil society work together, debate with each other, and at the end of the day solve problems and deliver an economically prosperous and stable society. And that’s why the US Chamber and CIPE are big futbol fans, all over the world, because we know the real value of a well-played game.
For far too long these three pillars of society: business, government, and citizens organizations have worked in silos — each trying to provide services to their stakeholders and on too many occasions not quite getting the job done. And, so, the genius of this conference – thank you again to President Kabore — is about renewing faith in the potential of collaboration between government and business and civil society to solve pressing problems facing every country, including the United States.
At CIPE, we believe that the private sector has a central role to play is this collaboration to strengthen democratic governance. In Africa, CIPE is supporting business associations, think tanks, and other non-profit partners and encouraging them to work as closely with government as possible. Why? Because they have answers to problems the governments are trying to solve.
For example, Kenya is going through a process of devolution that has created 47 county governments and CIPE is working with five NGO’s to help them generate greater citizen participation in the budget process. These NGO’s have built coalitions that include youth and women, farmer-based groups, and a network of faith based organizations – and business and government — to develop budget proposals that the local governments can actually implement.
The African Union estimates that Africa loses $140 billion a year to fraud and corruption. And, by the way, this is not just an African problem; it’s everyone’s problem almost everywhere in the world. We know that corruption affects both local and international investment because no one wants to do business where extortion is the norm. The fight against corruption has many aspects, but in the end it is all about changing behavior and improving governance. This is another area where public and private collaboration can make a difference.
This year – 2018 – CIPE will be working with partners in 10 countries to mobilize the business community to combat corruption. Business has a role to play because it is part of a demand/supply equation: someone asks for a bribe and someone must be willing to pay it. CIPE works with companies to establish management systems to mitigate or reduce the opportunities for corruption. In addition, CIPE is working with governments to help them identify weaknesses in their systems which create opportunities for corruption, and change procedures and develop new rules to diminish temptation and improve service delivery. Again, as you can see, this is all about collaboration.
Everything we do is designed to make countries more prosperous and stable. In 2016, CIPE launched a global trade facilitation partnership with the World Economic Forum and the ICC to make cross-border trade easier, quicker, and less costly for businesses of all sizes. With its partners, CIPE is developing programs in Asia and Latin America and is now looking to Africa. For example, in Vietnam, CIPE experts are working with corporate partners to devise a project to implement a customs bond system to speed up the release of goods from customs.
Finally, I would like to talk about a new CIPE initiative that will include your wonderful country. Burkina Faso is part of the G5 Sahel which is an institutional framework for regional cooperation with Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to strengthen the bond between economic development and security in the battle against jihadist organizations. And, building on the work among the five governments, CIPE plans to bring together business and other local groups to contribute to the solutions that will improve security and economic development.
To close – CIPE and the US Chamber’s Africa Business Center are unique. We don’t build roads or stadiums; or provide free medicine or low-cost loans. We bring the ingenuity of the global business community; we bring lessons learned from countries all over the world; and we bring solutions to problems that cripple societies – weak governance, inequality, corruption and failed economic models.
What we do is all about making your society stronger; giving you the tools to govern better; helping you create a sustainable prosperity which is the only real antidote for extremism, underdevelopment and social discontent.
None of this is easy, but it’s worth the effort because – as I tell my eleven-year-old daughter, probably too frequently — we all have an obligation to make things better.
I am honored to be with you, and I am delighted that a member of the board of the Chamber’s Africa Business Center is with us today – Simon Temtorey, of Lilium Capital – a son of Burkina Faso who exemplifies our message that when business collaborates with government and civil society problems get solved, governance gets easier . . . and you’re fulfilling your obligation to make things better.
Thank you very much.