This week’s African Investment Forum’s summit in Marrakech, Morocco is more significant than the simple coming-together of regional financial leaders. With the current international environment beset by drivers undermining regional cooperation, the AIF is a glimmer of hope at an otherwise turbulent global moment and an opportunity to steer towards a substantively independent and empowered governance future in the African and MENA regions. The AIF demonstrates that even amidst the apparent return of geopolitical contestation, international summitry can still serve as a driver of positive global governance.
With the ongoing war in Ukraine, the destabilising Israel-Gaza conflict, or enduring fractures within the UN system – the time does not seem ripe to reach for summitry to address governance challenges and pursue development opportunities. Yet, the AIF presents an alternative to the world’s lurch towards geopolitical contestation, serving as a positive driver for South-South cooperation and financing, even as established powers back away from the sorts of multilateral cooperation that has otherwise typified the past few decades.
Bringing private sector financing for sustainable, transformative projects with significant developmental impact, the AIF’s convening power is achieved through a commitment to international summitry as a cornerstone for driving progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the African Development Bank’s ‘High 5s’ and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. As the group encompasses financial institutions from both the wider MENA region and Europe, it constitutes a significant percentage of both private and public investment potential in the region, while improving the reach, range, and expertise that can be brought to the table.
Led by the heads of a series of major regional and international development banks – mostly centred in Africa and the MENA region – the AIF ensures that decisions and meetings have substance, with the weight of more than $143 billion so far mobilised towards African development goals. With the AIF’s leadership being drawn from key institutions including the African Finance Corporation, The Islamic Development Bank, and the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the AIF is thus a crucial mainstay of the international financing environment in the Global South, bringing together an impressive range of institutions for positive growth.
What is further significant about the AIF as a governance forum is its tech-led innovations to achieve more inclusive summitry. Not only is the AIF critical for forging connections between other regions and banks through in-person meetings, the development of what the AIF has termed, ‘The Platform’, digitally connects its members to enable open and free networking anywhere at any time. Developed in partnership with the Inter-America Development Bank’s ‘ConnectAmericas’ – an open and free social network for businesses in Latin America and the Caribbean – ‘The Platform’ serves as the next generation of online spaces to drive continuous governance between high-profile summits.
Further to this, it is worth noting that Morocco’s domestic backdrop gives the country many reasons to withdraw from the international community and summits altogether whilst it rebuilds from the devastating earthquake in September that left nearly three-thousand dead and thousands more wounded, as well as devastating the infrastructure and economic capacity of wide swathes of the country. Having recently hosted the IMF and World Bank Joint Meetings, the decision to continue with Marrakech’s hosting of major international events clearly shows not only its resilience, but the importance the country places on playing a leading role in the governance landscape, both in playing host to major international summits as well as leading by example domestically, such as through the launch of the country’s new social welfare system next month. It is testament to the country’s shifting stance towards the international community and reflects a dedication towards global governance that is on the wane elsewhere.
This week’s summit thus highlights the ability of the Global South to operate as its own driver for international change and innovate as a governance actor, even as other international institutions stutter to a halt. In moving away from financial reliance on the US-led West or Chinese-funded financial institutions like the AIIB or NDB, the AIF is a forum for countries to bolster self-reliance, move away from conditional loans, and develop regionally-relevant partnerships that ensure the finance does not leave the region. As the world realigns, the AIF affords the chance for the African and MENA regions to carve out greater agency and authorship of its governance and development future.