Africa adapts for awakening

Africa adapts for awakening

CMW looks at a continent with an event eye very much on the future

Africa’s almost 1.3 billion people have, of course, been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic like the rest of the world. The fact that the continent’s people are remarkably young – 40% of them are under 15 – has saved them from some of the worst ravages, but vaccination rates remain low in many countries. So, re-opening, including for events, has been slow in places.

Group CEO of GL Events’ South African business, Craig Newman tells CMW that, although the market on the continent is yet to reopen for major events, “people are feeling more optimistic”.

“The biggest issue is uncertainty,” he says. Organisers are nervous about committing to and paying for events until they are really convinced that they are going to take place.

For many in the African events market, however, any return to business will come too late. “In South Africa”, Newman laments, “90%, or possibly even more, of service providers are either out of business or in business rescue”. Those who have managed to survive, he says, have only done so by being able to diversify. “We were fortunate to be able to remain standing”, he says, referring to GL’s Live business division in the country.

On the continent several international event organisers there have either significantly reduced their presence or closed their offices.

Nigeria, with its population of over 200 million, is a hugely important market in the region. It “opened and stayed open,” says organiser Montgomery’s Alexander Angus. Montgomery ran its Propack West Africa exhibition and conference there in September and Angus reports: “Our exhibitors said that they had one of the best shows they’ve ever had in Nigeria”. That said, the event was a good deal smaller than in the past, he acknowledges.

Cape Town congress chemistry for 2027 

If the present is problematic, then Wesgro, the official tourism, trade and investment promotion agency for South Africa’s Cape Town and the Western Cape, is looking confidently to the future, having won its bid to host, in 2027, the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB) Triennial International Congress, estimated to be worth R48m in economic impact.

That bid was won through a partnership between the South African Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in partnership with the Cape Town & Western Cape Convention Bureau, the South African National Convention Bureau and the CTICC. The 2027 event, is booked in for 19-23 September at CTICC and will be the first time that the IUBMB Congress will be hosted on the African continent. Organisers are expecting to attract 1,500 delegates from across the world.

“South Africa’s relative state of development has resulted in many of our programmes and institutions being considered as gateways to Africa at large – especially from a training perspective,” says head of the department of integrative Biomedical Sciences at the University of Cape Town, professor Edward Sturrock. “Hosting IUBMB 2027 in Cape Town will undoubtedly leave a legacy deep into Africa and the future,” he added.


Pre-pandemic, Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) was said to have hosted up to half all the international conventions that came to the continent of Africa.

Over the past 21 months, however, restrictions on international travel and regulations limiting the number of people allowed at gatherings for indoor events and meetings severely curtailed the venue’s large-scale business events from traditional source markets of the United States and Europe. The focus shifted to maintaining the Centre and its infrastructure. The team also focused on maintaining a close working relationship with organisers so that when regulations allowed for reopening, they were in a position to operate at permitted capacity seamlessly.

“The most significant change we experienced was adapting to the ever-changing regulations,” the management team tells CMW. “The challenges meant growing the focus on attracting more conferences and association meetings from the African continent.”

In 2020, the team implemented health and safety initiatives such as C19Care protocol and a Covid-19 screening App, and they also put in place a proprietary Venue Capacity Management Tool.

In 2021, small in-person events returned along with domestic and regional business opportunities. The venue hosted exam marking and graduation ceremonies and became a multi-purpose space for the local business community.

The forward book would appear to be strong, with CTICC securing an additional 15 international events over the next five years, starting in 2022. “We might see a 30% drop in conference delegate numbers, compared to pre-pandemic levels, as many businesses are still limiting long-haul travel and organisers and delegates alike are opting for hybrid models for events,” the team believes.

Rwanda to host WD2023

Looking ahead elsewhere on the continent, and Rwanda aims to deliver the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women in the 21st century. WD2023, the next edition of the Women Deliver conference, is set to take place in-person in Kigali, Rwanda and virtually, 17–20 July 2023. “For the first time, the Women Deliver Conference will be held on the African continent. It is an honour for Rwanda to be the next host of this convening as it affirms that the ongoing efforts in-country around gender equality by the Government of Rwanda are gaining the desired traction,” says Rwanda’s minister of gender and family promotion, Jeannette Bayisenge, who is also chair of the WD2023 Host Country Committee.

Joshua Tabah, director general, global health and nutrition, Global Affairs Canada, symbolically passed the baton – the Women Deliver arrow – to Bayisenge and said: “With more than 8,000 advocates from over 165 countries on-site and more than 200,000 people joining around the world through satellite events and the virtual programme, the Women Deliver 2019 Conference (WD2019) was one of the most impactful and influential convenings for gender equality in the world. The last Women Deliver Conference fuelled over USD$1 billion in investments, and shone a global spotlight on the importance of gender equality. The Women Deliver 2023 Conference will once again promote a robust civic space for feminist action, organising, and mobilisation. The work that started in 2019 must continue and we are honoured to pass the arrow to Rwanda.”

In the coming months, the Advisory Group will come together to begin designing the details of WD2023. New conference programme elements will be previewed to the public in spring 2022 and registration will open during the official WD2023 one-year-out launch event, to be hosted in Kigali in July 2022.

Rwanda is, of course,  a small country, but prior to the pandemic it had been growing its economy fast, marketing itself hard as a destination and catching investors’ eyes.

Outside South Africa, venue size remains an issue limiting growth across much of the African continent but Rwanda is aiming to at least tilt  that balance back a little.

Conference & Meetings World is published for the international conference and meetings industry. It tackles the issues facing organisers of international events. The editorial is independent, fresh and news driven, with a global reach.

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