2021 International Women’s Day Celebration – Keynote by Arunma Oteh

2021 International Women’s Day Celebration

African Securities Exchanges Association

Keynote by Arunma Oteh OON

Scholar, University of Oxford


Thank you Dr Amenounve, President of ASEA for asking me to give this keynote at ASEA inaugural commemoration of International Women’s Day.

It is testament to the importance, you and your colleague CEOs of African Securities Exchanges, attach to leveraging the enormous value that women bring to society.

Thanks so much for your kind words about female leaders

I am also pleased to be speaking along side Dr Leautier who is an exemplary female leader

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, Happy International Women’s Day.

In my keynote, I will cover three areas (a) The need to address Africa’s challenges urgently (b) The jewel that leveraging women is (c) The unique leadership role that securities exchanges must play

(a) The need to address Africa’s challenges urgently

We must work hard and fast to undo the far reaching multifaceted damage of the COVID19. Despite the amazing work that has been birth by human ingenuity, in terms of vaccines, therapeutics and even changes in behaviour, the world is not yet out of the woods in respect of COVID19. They are still concerns about the possibility of various variants of this horrible virus appearing in the future. Experts also expect there to be more pandemics and with increased frequency.

The climate crisis is expected to be even more devastating if we don’t take urgent action today. Poverty, inequality, social and security challenges continue to threaten the greatest period of prosperity that society has enjoyed since World War II.

For us in Africa, the negative economic impact of COVID19 has been unimaginable. More people have fallen back into poverty and we have lost most of the economic gains we made in the last 25 years. Indeed, Africa has faced its first recession in 25 years because of COVID19.

Many African countries have not had the opportunity that many developed nations have had. Specifically, developed nations have been able to intervene and provide stimulus packages that are in many cases more than 10% of GDP. The United States, with the approval of the COVID relief bill by its Senate on 6th March, two days ago, is on course to provide a total of $4 trillion, or 19% of GDP, in one year.

Most African countries, on the other hand have done less than 1% of GDP.

Worse still, last year was devastating for many African economies notably commodity and tourism dependent economies. You are all familiar with the impact so no need to give additional statistics

This is therefore a time for bold and ambitious action. It is not only a time to rebuild post COVID19, but also an opportunity to unleash Africa’s vast wealth. We can not waste this horrible crisis. From Algeria in the North to South Africa in the South, from Ethiopia in the East to Senegal in the West, you can see countries with lands that are not only beautiful but are rich in agriculture and in other natural resources. Opportunities abound in every country and in every sector.

More important, is Africa’s teaming population of 1.2 billion people, 60% of whom, are below the age of 25 years.

(b) The jewel that leveraging women is

Women make up half of Africa’s population and leveraging women can be the jewel for us to “build forward better”. As I have previously said, African women are its economic powerhouse.

Let me share a few highlights on why I say so.

According to McKinsey, closing the gender gap could add $316 billion to Africa’s GDP by 2025 under a base case scenario, and $1 trillion under a full potential scenario. However at the current pace, they also estimate that it will take Africa 142 years to achieve gender parity.

If men and women have the same access to land, technology, and capital, Africa can feed an additional 150 million people.

Also even though women make up 50% of Africa’s population, they receive less than 10% of available credit.

Africa can release $40 billion for financing Female owned businesses, if it addresses challenges such as discriminatory laws, property rights, collateral requirements, social and cultural norms, and absence of support services. As you know, securities exchanges can play an important role in addressing any of these challenges.

(c) The unique leadership role that securities exchanges must play

Indeed, securities exchanges are uniquely positioned to take a lead on leveraging women, Africa’s economic powerhouse. This is because capital markets are at the forefront of mobilising the urgently needed private capital that will complement the paltry resources coming from the public sector. Capital markets also allocate capital efficiently and on the basis of a meritocracy. They help create jobs, spur innovation and enable risk management.

As some of the ASEA members may remember, during my keynote to you at your annual conference in November 2018, I gave a call to action.

That call to action was to seek ways in which exchanges can list more companies from the over 48,000 micro small and medium scale enterprises (MSMEs) that Africa has. At 1350 publicly listed companies with a total market capitalisation of $1.5 trillion, we are far from scratching the surface. So let me reiterate that call to action today. I hope IPOs will bounce back the way they have bounced back in the US and that innovative instruments such as Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) will also be present in Africa. Indeed, as we celebrate international women’s day, I hope you will reflect on how to support female owned businesses, given that they are lagging in terms of access to capital and other factors of production that will enable them scale and contribute more to society

Securities Exchanges are also well positioned to enable Africa realise its objectives for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). You have already made progress on regional approaches that can improve efficiencies and therefore can provide great examples for AfCFTA. Your experience in innovation, as well as leveraging technology and big data will also be helpful as “Africa Builds Forward Better”

I also believe that securities exchanges are uniquely positioned to help Africa take advantage of the keen interest that investors have in respect of environment, social and governance investing.

Why do I say so? Exchanges in Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe, (16 of you) are already members of the United Nations Sustainable Stock Exchange Initiative. I assume that the 16 others are working towards becoming members.

Securities exchanges will play a major role in unleashing the $26 trillion new climate economy because of your role in mobilising capital and because of the numerous companies that will be listed on your exchanges.

Securities Exchanges are visible symbols of our economies and so you can also give more attention to your advocacy role on issues such as eliminating gender based violence which statistics show is endemic and further worsened by the pandemic.

Also, what each one of us does will be crucial and so let me close by asking each of you to do what his year’s International Women’s Day says – CHOOSE TO CHALLENGE- gender biases, challenge gender stereotypes, challenge unequal gender mindsets so that Africa can leverage all of its great wealth in people, young and old, men and women.

We cannot afford not to. This is our last hope.

Thank you.