Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Afric'Agora, a place to welcome African companies, will be set up in Marseille in the summer of 2022

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Thursday, March 31st 2022 à 16:00 | Read 324 times

​Supported by the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Africalink network of entrepreneurs, the Afric'Agora project will be created in Marseille to welcome African companies and encourage their relations with their French counterparts. Frédéric Ronal, its promoter within the CCIAMP, reveals the contours of the project.

Frédéric Ronal, with Africalink, is in charge of the Afric'Agora project (photo: F.Dubessy)
Frédéric Ronal, with Africalink, is in charge of the Afric'Agora project (photo: F.Dubessy)
MEDITERRANEAN / AFRICA. If the project of the House of Africa in the Phocaean city has taken a long time to emerge - it was promised in 2020 by Africalink and then in 2021 by Jean-Luc Chauvin, president of the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIAMP) - it is now showing its face and has been renamed Afric'Agora.

Questioned by on this subject, on the sidelines of a conference organised in Marseille on Wednesday 30 March 2022 by Numeum (a professional union of digital companies in France), Frédéric Ronal, vice-president of the CCIAMP, now assures us that it "should ideally see the light of day before the summer of 2022, perhaps as early as June." Its two sponsors will be those of the beginning, the CCIAMP and the Africalink network of African and European entrepreneurs launched in June 2017.

Others could also accompany them on the baptismal font, such as the Top 20 Club (an offshoot in 2006 of the Union of Bouches-du-Rhône companies - UPE13 - and the CCIAMP, bringing together business owners or senior executives of the department's major companies), or even the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis or the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Region. "Having an institutional player remains necessary in this project for the territory and not only for entrepreneurs. The territory will be able to use this place to organise events linked to Africa", underlines the vice-president.

"The Agora is intended to be economically independent"

"The Agora will be a meeting place for business leaders. It will be available to Africans who need offices, a place to receive their clients and suppliers. They will find a certain amount of information there, what I call 'economic concierge services'. We will be able to organise a few visits and meetings for them," says Frédéric Ronal. "It will also be a place of animation around the ecosystem of the African world with cultural exhibitions. We want African artists to come and exhibit in the Agora, and even have it decorated by them. We will also be able to organise events there.

All that remains is to finance it, and Frédéric Ronal is clear on this subject. "The Agora is intended to be economically independent, because it must have its own economic model in order to be scalable (editor's note: adaptable) and therefore able to be established elsewhere. It is important to understand that we are setting up a prototype in Marseille. When this first location opens, we will be able to duplicate it in France and Europe, of course, but also in Africa. And for the time being, we will seek international financing.

According to the vice-president of the CCIAMP, "the World Bank is already very interested. It is only waiting to see what we manage to do in Marseille so that it can establish project financing enabling us to open ten Agoras in Africa, in a number of countries wishing to host this type of venue.

The vice-president of the CCIAMP will only launch Afric'Agora when he has gathered a sufficient number of members (photo: F.Dubessy)
The vice-president of the CCIAMP will only launch Afric'Agora when he has gathered a sufficient number of members (photo: F.Dubessy)

A location kept secret

"The advantage of an entrepreneurial project is that it does not depend on anyone. The disadvantage is that all the financial risks have to be taken on and we don't want to take any unacceptable ones. I will therefore only launch the whole thing when I have a minimum volume of subscribers," says the vice-president of the CCIAMP.

The Agora will have three resources. Firstly, its founder members and members gathered in an Agora club who will benefit, in exchange for a subscription, from a certain number of services. Secondly, funds from the rental of spaces for events mainly related to Africa. Finally, external funding, as mentioned above.

For the moment, the address of Afric'Agora remains a well-kept secret. In January 2019, Jean-Luc Chauvin saw it in the city centre and in February 2019, Yves Delafon, past-president of Africalink (Hichem El Merini and Panayotis Liolios succeeded him at the beginning of March 2022, even specified on the Canebière. Today, Frédéric Ronal prefers to remain discreet about its location, which seems to be known already: "It has to be validated before we communicate on it," he apologises.

An economic database on Europe and Africa in the making

At the Numeum conference, Frédéric Ronal emphasised the role of economic data, described as "economic heritage, oil, the gold of tomorrow". According to him, "companies must be able to find contacts, a network, partners, colleagues who have the same problems as them, a tool for working, but also information. A project codenamed "Africa Data" will therefore also be "developed by a team of experts, as soon as we have opened the Agora", he continues. Before confiding to, "This data will probably be accessible in the Agoras, at least initially, and then we will see how to disseminate it more widely. It won't be free for users, otherwise we'd have to find a subsidised model and I'm not sure I want to do that. Data has a value and what is free has no value."

French European data, which is easier to collect - "you just have to make it accessible", he stresses - will be used by African companies. "I have a Tunisian boss who wants to set up in France, not with an office but by buying a packaging company," he gives as an example. "Today, he does not have this information. With Africa Data, he will have it, because we will be an aggregator. Frédéric Ronal recognises that "in Africa the challenge is deeper, because we have to create and organise the data." This will be the role of the project team soon to be set up, which "will have to convince the African ministries, as well as the donors, that this makes sense. Hence the interest in Numeum's support, which will be able to give us credibility and provide the skills of its member companies on the African digital world."

Olivier Cazzulo (Numeum) is interested in the Africa Data project (photo: F.Dubessy)
Olivier Cazzulo (Numeum) is interested in the Africa Data project (photo: F.Dubessy)

"Identifying local digital companies"

For Olivier Cazzulo, administrator and southern regional delegate of Numeum, "this is still in gestation. I would like us to take an interest in it today. This is a first step that we are taking today." Also president and founder of netsystem (consulting in information systems and digital transformation) based in Gardanne, near Aix-en-Provence, he recalls that in 2021 "Numeum has positioned a permanent representative in Brussels to make European sovereignty a major issue and to plead for a regularisation of laws. We must do the same with regard to Africa." He added, "when I go to this continent, especially to the Maghreb, my interlocutors ask me 'where are you French?' even though we have a common history." According to Olivier Cazzulo, "we have abandoned Africa to the Chinese, and we must return to it. The digital initiatives in Africa are not waiting for us, and what's more, their companies have made a quantum leap and are sometimes more efficient. The idea is therefore not to come and explain things to them, but to interact with them, to work and bring each other with a collegial approach to these subjects and different prisms."

Frédéric Ronal also highlights "the need to identify local digital companies to carry this Africa Data project and to lobby for funding from Europe, for example. He also insists on this crucial subject: "What we are proposing is not nothing. It is to help African states to structure their data to make them accessible. And for that, international funding is needed.

Olivier Cazzulo therefore intends to get closer to this initiative of the CCIAMP and Africalink. "We need to see how we can federate our ecosystem, how to help them to seek funding to encourage the emergence of this project."

Unlike Afric'Agora, Africalink will not intervene directly in this Africa Data project, except for its members who are already working in the field of data.


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