West Africa is increasingly developing its economic potential and proof of this is the activity of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), an organisation created in 1994 and which includes Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo with the main objective of establishing the construction of a harmonised economic space, in which the free movement of people, capital, goods, services and factors of production is guaranteed.
According to the World Bank, and thanks to the restructuring of the economy, economic growth in this region is estimated at 4.6% by 2023. They currently use the common currency (African Financial Community Franc CFA) and the population of the countries that make up UEMOA exceeds 123 million inhabitants. This scenario offers great opportunities for investors from all over the world. The western region of the African continent has a wealth of natural resources, diversification of its economies and strengthening of its democratic institutions, a scenario that invites investment in view of the great possibilities it offers in terms of obtaining profits.
Tourism is a sector that does not escape this approach. The member countries are betting on the tourism industry to boost their economies. They are currently collaborating with the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) to improve and promote the tourism industry through training programmes and different projects that various ministers and public officials have presented to different companies and investors at the Tourism Forum organised at the headquarters of the Official Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Services of Madrid with the participation of the UEMOA.
The event was a great opportunity to learn about the priorities and plans that these West African countries want to implement in terms of receiving investment and developing their own tourism sector.
The conclave was attended by Ángel Asensio, President of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Services of Madrid, Jaquite Mamadú Serifo, UEMOA Commissioner for Human Development, Paul Koffi Koffi, UEMOA Commissioner for Enterprise Development, Mines and Digital Economy, Siandou Fofana, Minister of Tourism of Ivory Coast, Felinho Albin Clet, President of the Confederation of Employers of Benin, Eric Kouevi, Minister of the Presidency of Togo, Mohammed Hamid, Minister of Culture, Tourism and Crafts of Niger, Segda Adama, Minister of Tourism of Burkina Faso, and Souleymane Ndiaye, Director General of the Society for the Development and Promotion of the Coasts and Areas of Tourist Interest of Senegal.
The main idea of the meeting was the great potential that West Africa offers in terms of economic growth and development possibilities. The area has an estimated growth of 4.5% by 2023 and has enjoyed a continuous growth of 6% in recent years, as pointed out Angel Asensio, who also stressed the importance of public-private collaboration along with innovation, new technologies, training of personnel to achieve qualified staff and the development of a Brand Africa in order to develop the region and take advantage of its possibilities.
The UEMOA collaborates with the UNWTO in order to strengthen the tourism sector with the aim of sustainable growth, but what is most needed now in the West African countries integrated in the West African Economic and Monetary Union to develop the tourism sector and take advantage of all its possibilities is investment.
The different public officials of each of the member countries demanded foreign investment, and especially Spanish investment, to implement many of the projects that have already been designed and approved and which are awaiting the final investment boost to see the light of day and generate wealth and benefits for all. All this on the eve of FITUR, "the world's leading tourism fair", as Ángel Asensio himself recalled. The president of the Madrid Chamber of Commerce alluded to the regional offer in terms of natural parks, culture, landscapes and dream beaches and the contrast between the rural and urban charm of these countries, which makes them a very attractive potential tourist destination.
Jaquite Mamadou Serifo highlighted this Tourism Forum as an opportunity for UEMOA to present diverse objectives to potential investors. The commissioner of the WAEMU Human Development Department pointed out that public-private partnership and tourism should be promoted. A sector that "needs investment and attention because it generates wealth".
Jaquite Mamadú also referred to the Community Investment Code, a WAEMU tool that governs the rules of this community of countries and serves as a guide for investment policies. This code provides investors with guarantees and regulatory protection. It "allows investments to be carried out with peace of mind" in this community space, as the commissioner of the WAEMU's Human Development Department explained.
Meanwhile, Paul Koffi Koffi spoke of the challenges facing West Africa, such as insecurity due to the presence of insurgent and terrorist groups in the Sahel area, the budgetary balance threatened by the extra expenses that governments have to face, inflation increased by the war in Ukraine or political instability due to the overthrow of governments, as in the case of Mali; despite which, investment in tourism in the area should continue due to the "great potential" that it offers. The region is also a major economic hub for the world's cocoa, cotton, palm oil and other products, as well as an enclave of important mining and hydrocarbon deposits. In particular, Niger and Senegal have double-digit growth forecasts for 2023.
The UEMOA Commissioner for Business Development, Mines and Digital Economy highlighted the great weight of tourism in the GDP of this African region, which is between 7 and 10%, depending on the case. And not only traditional tourism, it is also a question of relaunching business tourism. The potential for attracting tourism is "enormous", especially given the characteristics of a free trade zone on the African continent and the legal framework of guarantees implemented by the WAEMU and another regional entity such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The legal framework for public-private partnership contracts allows the investor to operate through this mechanism with full guarantees. This provides the same fiscal mechanism for all member countries, which serves as a single framework for potential investors. As Paul Koffi Koffi recalled, the aim is to improve the business climate and simplify the procedures for setting up companies; all this by facilitating the payment of taxes, reducing taxes and even improving the energy system of each nation so that the entrepreneurs established there do not have operational problems in their companies.
After the speeches by Ángel Asensio, Jaquite Mamadú and Paul Koffi Koffi, it was the turn of the delegates from each UEMOA country to present the opportunities that each one offers in terms of attracting foreign investment.
In his turn, Siandou Fofana presented the various attractions of Côte d'Ivoire. The basis of national tourism development is based on the 2018 Sublime Côte d'Ivoire programme, which highlights several axes of the national offer. This programme aims to make Côte d'Ivoire one of the top five tourist destinations in Africa. Côte d'Ivoire had more than 4 million tourists a year before the COVID pandemic and has not yet regained the rhythm of visits, as indicated by the Ivorian Minister of Tourism. He did point out, however, that Côte d'Ivoire is currently the third largest business tourism destination on the African continent, behind only Nigeria and Morocco. Fofana also called for a direct air link between his country and Spain, which is the closest European country to Africa, and with other nations. He called for "building bridges to strengthen the situation in the region". The Ivorian government official indicated that tourism is expected to have a 10% impact on national GDP by 2030, compared to 7% before the pandemic. All of this is based on a favourable investment code that includes tax exemptions, ease of procedures and other advantages for investors.
For his part, Felinho Albin Clet said that tourism is the third pillar of Benin's economy, a country that offers a help box for foreign investors as the aim is to attract massive foreign capital for Benin's own tourism sector. The president of the Benin Employers' Confederation presented the project for an inter-state land transport network that would reach most of the capitals in the area, such as Cotonou, Niamey, Ouagadougou, Bamako, Lomé and Abidjan. The head of Benin called for investment and European advice to develop the transport system with luxury buses and good connections, with a total budget of 3.987 billion CFA francs.
Mohammed Hamid was also keen to highlight the potential of his country, Niger. Niger has large reserves of uranium, iron, phosphates, gold and coal, as well as important hydrocarbon deposits. Niger is a country that serves as a "gateway between the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa", and is therefore of great strategic importance. The country is looking for investors in all these sectors, as well as in tourism, as the Niger Minister of Culture, Tourism and Crafts acknowledged. He highlighted areas such as hydrocarbons, which could account for 25% of the country's GDP.
As for tourism, he highlighted three main types of tourism: cultural, river and Saharan tourism, and presented important projects in which it is possible to invest in order to obtain benefits, such as a five-star complex in Niamey, near the airport, or the concession for a five-star hotel also in the Nigerian capital, for which an investment partner is being sought.
As for Burkina Faso, Segda Adama highlighted the situation in his country, despite the security problems exacerbated by the activity of radical groups. The country has had an economic growth of 5.46% between 2017 and 2021 and enjoys a strategic position as the second largest gold producer among WAEMU countries and the third largest cotton producer in Africa as a whole. The public official highlighted her country as a major film destination and an outstanding craft centre, in addition to having several UNESCO Heritage sites, which favours its tourism sector, which accounts for 2.5% of the national GDP.
Segda Adama indicated that the Burkinabe state encourages investment through instruments such as the General Law on Competition, the Public-Private Partnership Law and a strategy to promote a good business climate through measures that facilitate the creation of companies, access to land and the possibility of freely setting the capital of each company.
In his speech, Eric Kouevi highlighted Togo as a gateway to other large neighbouring countries such as Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. Despite being a small country, Togo has great advantages such as a very good business climate, the best in Africa in 2020, according to the World Bank. Togo's presidential advisor pointed out that the Togolese state facilitates the implementation of business and access to land ownership, which favours investment, all in a scenario of financial stability.
Togo's tourism strategy for the period 2023-2027 is based on three pillars: domestic travel, ecotourism and MICE or business tourism. This sector is favoured by Togo's important geostrategic location, which facilitates its connectivity. Eric Kouevi also presented the TST label (Togo Site Touristique), which aims to renovate national tourist sites, something for which the government is asking for investment. He also presented the Lomé Arena project, a sports stadium set on a lake, ideal for water sports.
Last but not least, Souleymane Ndiaye's speech focused on Senegal's advantages. Senegalese economic indicators are very good, with a growth rate of 5%, which is expected to rise to 10% with the new oil fields. The director general of the Society for the Development and Promotion of the Coasts and Areas of Tourist Interest in Senegal gave reasons to invest in Senegal: a healthy and competitive economy, a privileged regional and international geographical position, a good foreign direct investment policy, free movement of capital without double taxation and a young and qualified workforce.
Ndiaye highlighted cultural tourism, seaside resorts, national parks, the wide range of Senegal's coastline, with up to 700 kilometres of coastline, and the possession of up to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites as major national tourist attractions.