Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

"We are not adding anything to Africalink, we are extending it"

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Tuesday, March 8th 2022 à 16:15 | Read 230 times

EU / AFRICA. The new board of directors of Africalink, which met on Monday 7 March 2022 in Aix-en-Provence, elected Hichem El Merini (president of the SM2E group, established in France and Morocco) and Panayotis Liolios (associate general manager of Exco, based in Marseille) as co-presidents. Members since the creation of this community of entrepreneurs born in 2017 in Marseille, they succeed Yves Delafon, who has led the association since its foundation.

The two co-presidents supervise Yves Delafon (photo:F.Dubessy)
The two co-presidents supervise Yves Delafon (photo:F.Dubessy) Why did you choose to form a pair?

Panayotis Liolios: The task is nevertheless important and there is a symbolic aspect to this co-presidency. Hichem is Moroccan and on the African continent and I am of Greek origin, so on the European continent. We want to carry this symbol.

How will the roles be divided between the two of you?

P.L.: There is no division of roles. We do things together!

What are the new actions you are going to carry out? What will you add to the mandate of Yves Delafon, your predecessor?

P.L.: We are not adding anything, we are extending. The first action will be to continue to structure all our interventions. Secondly, we want to develop our network in Africa and in the Aix-Marseille Provence region. The third point will be the development of resources because the stakes are high, but we are optimistic.

"Present in about ten countries"

What will be the priority countries?

Hichem El Merini:
We are already present in about ten countries*. The next target countries can be among these existing countries, but we would like to define a priority according to the needs and requirements of our members. This is why we will be organising breakfasts with them to define the priority countries.

What are the missions already scheduled?

H.E.M.: One will take place in Senegal in July 2022. This country chairs the African Union in the same way that France chairs the European Union. Others are planned, but the date has not yet been set.

You are very much courted, there is a lot of talk about you, don't you sometimes have the impression of being taken advantage of?

H.E.M.: We are in an ethnic approach, in a new software if I may say so, and we absolutely want the wealth to be shared between African and European entrepreneurs. Many people cite us as an example, such as Franck Riester (Editor's note: French Minister Delegate to the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, in charge of Foreign Trade and Attractiveness), and African ministers, but I am waiting for a match between their extremely flattering words and funding. At that point, we can consider that we are being taken over or courted. But, today, it is above all we who are chasing funding.

"Qualitative, not quantitative, objectives"

The two co-presidents are going to look for funding (photo: F.Dubessy)
The two co-presidents are going to look for funding (photo: F.Dubessy)
You mentioned at the general meeting that you had public subsidies (see box below) and that you wanted to seek private funding. How are you going to do this and from whom?

H.E.M.: We are at the same time revitalising and continuing. The continuity will effectively call upon what Yves Delafon had already started, i.e. soliciting funds from public backers. For companies, the average size of financing around 50 or 100,000 € is not approached today by the financial backers. So, typically, we are going to do this either through institutions such as the AFD (French Development Agency) or through the private banks that we will soon be meeting.

P.L.: Above all, we need to facilitate exchanges. We are not here as entrepreneurs to say we need financing to do business. No, we need the circuits to be fluid and to have facilitated exchanges. This is one of the first difficulties that we have, in particular for the SMEs that we represent. It is not the same case for the large groups which are structured.

What are your objectives for 2022 in terms of development?

H.E.M.: We do not have quantitative objectives. The principle of membership within Africalink is based on co-option. Members must be able to work in confidence, so the number of companies that can join our community is not important. What is important is the quality of the entrepreneurs who will join us. If there are 250 of us in 2022, we will be happy because, indeed, there is also a contribution in terms of financing with the memberships. If we are 220 and with the same quality, it will be very good. It is not a question of a race to the top.
What these companies can expect is trust. When they have a request for a country, they must be able to find the answer in an efficient and relevant way from other people who already know the local fabric very well.

* Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Madagascar, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal, Somaliland, Tanzania, Tunisia. 

Yves Delafon: "I am no longer president of Africalink, but I am still Africalink."
Yves Delafon passe le relais et devient président d'honneur
Yves Delafon passes the baton and becomes honorary president (photo: F.Dubessy) How do you feel as founding president at the time of this handover and as you become honorary president of Africalink?

Yves Delafon: Nothing has happened today. We continue together. Hichem and Panayotis have been with us since the beginning. They are my friends, my colleagues, those with whom we have written this story. Before, Yves Delafon was president, now it's Hichem El Merini and Panayotis Liolios, it doesn't change anything. I am no longer the president of Africalink, but I am still Africalink.

What do you remember about Africalink's actions?

This community is an indispensable commitment. We have come together around convictions about the importance of our relationship with Africa, about the role of the SME, its commitment, which is not just about profit, but also about global thinking. We are actors in the world.

Creating Africalink in 2017 was quite a gamble?

: We were indeed preaching in the desert at the start. We were among the first to affirm the message that our future lay in the South, not in the East or elsewhere. And four years later, no one disputes this idea.
We need Africa more than Africa needs us. This continent needs partners, but it now has the choice between the Chinese, the Indians, the Turks, the Americans... We must be the credible partner because we share values, culture, proximity, and we have history with us. What are you most proud of?

Of this community, this conviviality, this common commitment that we have had. It is not me. I was entrusted with the presidency of the Board of Directors, I could not do anything without an office, a Board of Directors with remarkable people who were there and are still there. So I am proud of them, but also grateful to them, because it worked. Today, we have a strong readability that sometimes surprises me. This is because we have values that are self-evident.

What is your message for the future of the network?

: We are now entering the hard part. We have to find the means to really take our place. Today, we are working with very limited financial resources. But we have shown that we can do it. Now our institutions, which have the means to support our dynamics, must realise that we need, and that they need us, to achieve the objectives of our territory. The fact of creating a network of equal partners with African countries is structuring and essential for our territory. It must be nurtured. If the public authorities, whose vocation is to help the private sector, are not there to lend a hand, we will not succeed.

The Africalink network in figures (at the end of 2021)

172 members, 35% of which are African SMEs

1.8 billion in cumulative turnover

18 sectors (20% production, industry, services to industry; 11% distribution and trade; 11% real estate, architecture, construction and building)

11 ambassadors

2021 resources: €129,898 of which €75,897 in grants
(30 000€ from the CCI Aix-Marseille Provence)

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