An expert on the African continent, where he travelled as part of the various missions he exercised in the last 30 years, Etienne Giros is today vice-president of Cian. He tells us what opportunities the continent will offer in the decades to come but also the obstacles that will have to be overcome.
Leaders League. What is the role of the Cian?
Etienne Giros. Our mission is articulated around several axes: first, we build a network of actors and members of the Cian – essentially French companies. Today, we have 160 members, totalling 60 million euros in turnover on the African continent. Our primary vocation is to put these actors in contact with each other.
The second aspect is our recognized expertise in African subjects. Through permanent commissions on various subjects such as taxation, human resources, security, CSR, we are able to handle current affairs and cross-cutting issues. What’s more, we are consulted by public authorities on these questions, as was the case multiple times last year.
Finally, we are the spokesperson for French companies in Africa and in a position to defend our nation’s values. We represent around 80% of French companies present on the continent, which gives us greater legitimacy. We address ourselves to the general public and to institutions.
Leaders League. According to you what future is possible for French companies in Africa?
E.G. There is this notion that French companies are losing ground in Africa. Certain figures show that the fraction of French companies in African importations has decreased, going from 11% in 2000 to 5,5% in 2016, while at the same, Chinese companies have gone from 3% to 15% . These numbers represent a clear proportional decrease. Nevertheless, we have to avoid rushing to conclusions. Indeed, at the same time, the turnover of French companies on the African continent has doubled. The truth is that France has progressed slower than African growth.
In the raw materials sector, emerging countries have taken a prominent place to the detriment of France. But France has a number of advantages in other sectors, such as commerce, transport, infrastructures and smart cities.
Furthermore, one of the specificities of French companies is their direct implantation in France by way of subsidiaries. This position is not measured by customs statistical data of foreign trade, and so it minimizes our companies’ position.
Leaders League. How do you see the Africa of tomorrow?
Africa is getting ready to experience what Asia has already known for several decades, meaning important growth and poverty reduction. Many phenomena coexist in the continent, which explains future changes.
Growth has oscillated between 5% and 8% over the last ten years. The second determining factor is demography. Currently the continent has around 1,2 billion inhabitants, yet its population is set to double by 2050. The planet has never known such a demographic boom. On top of that is the continuing trend of massive urbanization that will profit French companies that are amongst the best globally in this sector. This evolution will facilitate the emergence of a middle class and from there, new African companies creating added value.
Leaders League. And what are the obstacles that the Africa of tomorrow will have to overcome?
Africa is the new source of growth on the planet. The continent has to concentrate its efforts on the basics and avoid becoming fragmented. There are indeed numerous obstacles that will need to be tackled.
First of all, there is the question of governance. Work still needs to be done on reform. Too many political situations are in paralysis.
Next, there is the question of infrastructure. A large number of African countries are landlocked and two-thirds of the continent don’t have access to electricity: the creation of new infrastructure will remedy this situation.
Of course, it is also necessary to answer the question of training, especially in superior and professional education so as to produce a skilled workforce. Whilst the soaring demographic is the main advantage of the continent, it will also pose significant challenges. We will need work alongside Africa to ensure we meet these challenges.