Home Comoros “Africa is not regressing, it is changing”, says Hiridjee, CEO of the...

“Africa is not regressing, it is changing”, says Hiridjee, CEO of the Axian group

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From a simple oil mill in the 1920s, the Hiridjee family has made the Axian Group a juggernaut of the Malagasy economy, over three generations. Hassanein and his brother Amin accelerated his development.

Since 2016, the two have regrouped their activities in the telecoms, banking and energy sectors within the pan-African group Axian. Also present in the Comoros, Senegal, Mali, Togo and the French island of Réunion, it will soon be active in Tanzania, since it has taken over the subsidiary of the telecoms operator Millicom. Its turnover will then reach approximately $ 1.7 billion.

Hassanein Hiridjee weighed in on the issues that most affect the continent: from climate change to political crises, including the management of the pandemic and – because he has French nationality – the evolution of relations between France and France. Africa, which he hopes to become more open.

Question: The COP26 in Glasgow put the issue of the fight against global warming back on the agenda. Should entrepreneurs think about the environmental impact of their activities?

Hassanein Hiridjee: Yes of course. It is our responsibility to ensure that we drive economic transformation and reduce emissions. The private sector is aware of this, but is it giving itself the means to transform? At Axian, we have been carrying out an annual carbon footprint for several years. We measure the pollution generated by each of our future activities and projects, and take action to reduce it.

During the 2000s, your group focused on the distribution of refined petroleum products and the production of electricity from fuel oil. You then moved on to renewable energies. What triggered this new strategy?

Since the 2000s, we have seen that the issues linked to global warming have become evident. In Madagascar, unfortunately, we experience this climate injustice on a daily basis. We do not emit CO2, we do not pollute, but we are paying a heavy price, as evidenced by the drought that is hitting the south of the country. This was already evident in the 2000s.

Another reason is our development in telecoms. When we densified our networks, we realized that we had a double job. We are not only a telephone supplier, but also an electricity supplier, because we go to areas where there is no electricity. The simplest solution was to generate clean electricity. It was the click.

Regarding telephony, the continent has equipped itself exponentially over the past 25 years. With the tools we have today, we could develop the field of electrification just as quickly. Digital and green energy revolutions can accelerate this movement.

Through our company Welight’s projects, we hope to accelerate the development of equipment, accessibility and lower prices, by associating a payment solution with clean and decentralized energy production.

In recent weeks, the news has been dominated by coups d’état in Guinea and Sudan, and before that, in Mali. In addition to the bad news, there is the yearlong war in Ethiopia. Is Africa retreating?

He’s not regressing. It’s changing. We realize that some changes inflict damage. However, young leaders, who have their hearts in the right place and a vision, are helping to transform the continent. You mentioned countries where there have been coups d’état, but think of those which are advancing, such as Togo. We have been working on it for three years and have witnessed a government that is a driving force in all cycles of the economy, whether in terms of energy equipment, telecommunications, health or education. The country has continued to climb the ranks of the “Doing Business” ranking, it’s incredible.

There is, as we have just mentioned, an Africa which loses, but also to hope that Africa finally wins. Do you believe in the African Continental Free Trade Area [AfCFTA]?

I am optimistic. Designing a vast project that will unleash the economy, free up energies – both in terms of the movement of goods and in industry – will help to structure the continent. What will be difficult is to act. It will take time.

Are you also optimistic about growth in Africa? Are there sufficient funds to ensure his recovery?

It is clear that the pandemic has had an extremely negative impact on the growth of the continent. Admittedly, the human toll has been lower than in Europe, but the economy has suffered greatly. Today, we realize that the economic acceleration necessary to meet our development challenges cannot be achieved without additional financing. Receiving special drawing rights from the IMF will help speed this up, but it will not be enough. Africa needs a boost in the confidence of private investors and the resumption of major infrastructure projects as quickly as possible.

It also means vaccinating Africans …

We need to get the vaccines. Europe is already talking about third doses, while Africa would just like to have the vaccines. Efforts are being made to produce them in Senegal and Rwanda. Here too, the movement must be accelerated.

How well have African governments handled the pandemic?

When it comes to dealing with the crisis, we all discovered the virus at the same time and adapted our course of action. Everyone has done their best, closing markets and reducing travel. Fortunately, the vaccine has arrived, but it has been pre-empted by developed countries. Africa must now have access to it.

At the beginning of October in Montpellier, during the last Africa-France summit, French President Emmanuel Macron changed his tactics by discussing with civil society rather than with his African counterparts. He also did not invite business leaders from the continent. What did you think of this move?

I think it was a great initiative because the young people had the chance to express themselves and the floor was opened. We have an amazing opportunity in Africa. The workforce is young and asks for fairly simple things: “Help us to educate ourselves, help us to create jobs.” We are ready to take our destiny in hand and develop our economies. Join us.”

You are both French and Madagascan. What do you think of the criticisms addressed to France concerning its relations with Africa? Is Françafrique still a reality?

It’s very easy to rewrite history, to point out what went wrong. I want to look to the future. How to develop my country and the continent? How can I learn from the mistakes of the past?

Let’s learn from this and make it better. France wants to have a relaxed relationship with Africa, she wants to be its partner. France maintains an extremely rich, reciprocal relationship with Africa. African youth are Francophiles. Let us hold out our hands. Let’s build bridges, not divisions.

Actions are needed. Is the restitution of cultural property one of them?

It is a strong act, but it should not be isolated. These objects should not be put in a corner.

What bridges can we create? Let’s take an example. President Macron launched the Africa 2020 cultural season initiative. As a private sector actor, we are one of the main patrons of African culture. We created the H Foundation to promote young contemporary African talents and we participated in the 2020 season, which allowed us to present all types of African works: plastic arts, music, dance, etc. This initiative should be expanded. We don’t just need an Africa 2020 season, we need an Africa 2030 season.


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