UCL News


CBI lecture on business in Africa

19 January 2006

UCL hosted the inaugural Confederation of British Industry (CBI) New Year Lecture on 18 January 2006.

Niall FitzGerald, Chairman of Reuters, talked to business leaders about the vested interest that business has in tackling poverty and helping development in Africa.

The talk was chaired by UCL's President and Provost, Professor Malcolm Grant, and by Sir Digby Jones (UCL Laws 1977; Fellow 2004), Director-General of the CBI and President of the Campaign for UCL, and was followed by a reception in the South Cloisters. Attendees included Sir Bob Geldof, and proceeds from the event went towards Unicef's global campaign 'Unite For Children: Unite Against Aids'.

Mr Fitzgerald argued the time has come for the G8 and other countries to 'translate alluring promises' on debt, development and aid into action.

The promises were made at the Gleneagles G8 summit, but after the failure of the Hong Kong trade negotiations the time has come for "a commitment to walk the talk on trade liberalisation, and for courage to reject compromises that protect few and impoverish many".

Business must recognise the opportunities the hugely diverse continent offers and work with its countries for the benefit of all, said Mr Fitzgerald, who has advised the Prime Minister's Commission for Africa.

"For those who remain sceptical about Africa, not to say deeply cynical, and see only corrupt politicians, incompetent administrators and unskilled workers, let me give you three wholly selfish and self-centred reasons why you should care and act.

"Africa is the epicentre of a clash of religious beliefs: Islam and Christianity. Two communities that lived peacefully together for many centuries are in danger of slipping into mutual hatred and killing. Business needs to be a force for healing not horror, through engagement and investment, otherwise the ensuing chaos will eventually engulf our prosperous ghettos.

"Second, migration can unbalance societies and undermine security. Migration is most effectively dealt with at source, by helping to ensure there is opportunity and hope, bread and jobs, not hunger and guns.

"And then there is oil, the commodity on which our lives and lifestyle most depend. Most oil resources are concentrated in areas of greatest unrest and volatility. Africa is likely to be the most important source of new oil. We have a vested interest in helping to create a secure and stable environment through the growth and spread of prosperity in this oil-rich region."