In 1956, a group of individuals working for major British companies with interests in Nigeria, Ghana (the former Gold Coast) and Sierra Leone formed the West Africa Committee (WAC). The aim was to aid and stimulate the economic development of West Africa through business. Shortly afterwards, Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone became independent. WAC through its close contacts with British and West African governments, provided trade information and intelligence on import and exchange controls and taxation and economic planning to members encompassing businesses in the oil, mining, shipping, banking, accountancy and trade sectors.
As the desire amongst African nations for independence spread, WAC moved into Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Senegal and expanded membership to include firms from France, the Netherlands and the USA. The mantra was ‘Pushing African businesses forward’ and in 2000 WAC became the West Africa Business Association (WABA).
With its new name came a new mission – promoting business and encouraging the development of business opportunities both in and with West Africa. Africa had moved to the top of the global agenda, Anglophone, Francophone and Lusaphone, and WABA began to make a significant contribution to many important Africa initiatives such as:
– The development of Millennium Development Goals
– The New Partnership for Africa’s Development
– The Commission for Africa
– Commitments made by the G8 at Gleneagles in 2008
By the time of its 50th anniversary, there were regional representatives in ten countries and associations in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. In 2009 the British Nigeria Business Council was subsumed into BCA bringing with it funds and importantly knowledge, expertise and contacts, all facilitating the establishment of the Nigeria Desk and extensive coverage of that country.
WABA had similarly absorbed the Southern African Business Forum (SABF) to create WABA-SABF which brought with it modest funds.
During the seventies and eighties SABF became UK South Africa Trade Organisation (UKSATA) in part funded by the British government. The subvention was lost in the early nineties and UKSATA was obliged to reconfigure with UKSATA having to rely solely on member support. Coinciding with South Africa’s ‘democracy period’, several large companies felt the requirement for a UKSATA type body had reduced and UKSATA was slimmed down to become the UK South African Business Association (UKSABA) and then renamed the Southern African Business Forum (SABF) to recognise the inclusivity of the Southern African Development Conference and the South African Customs Union SACU), the intention being to broaden membership to include all southern African countries. Retaining the support of the big South African companies which no longer felt the need for ‘door opening’ bodies like UKSABA or SABF became difficult.
With the absorption of SABF into what was to eventually become the Business Council for Africa, vigorous engagement of most SADC countries – Zambia. Malawi, Namibia and Botswana has followed. BCA was now regularly addressed by southern Africa heads of mission and, with South Africa now formally part of SADC agreements with the EU, BCA has become increasingly relevant to South African companies.