Expert views

Chambers: The first recourse for small businesses

22 September 2020
Denis Deschamps, Permanent Conference of African and Francophone Consular Chambers (CPCCAF)

At the heart of their ecosystem, chambers are ideal business supporters in a world of crisis

Chambers are agile and reliable intermediaries between small businesses and public authorities. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted their central role of providing immediate support to businesses and advising administrations and public authorities.

Given their place at the centre of their national or local business ecosystem, and their role as private-sector representatives, chambers offer solutions and follow-up adapted to the needs of companies.

As such, they are ideal counterparts for small businesses when mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A study by the Permanent Conference of the Consular Chambers in Francophone Africa (CPCCAF) on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on small businesses reveals the immense difficulties they face, and reports on the actions chambers are taking to remedy these.

Covering 31 chambers and organizations within its network of 17 countries, the CPCCAF survey shows a drop in sales for nine out of ten companies across French-speaking African countries, while eight out of ten companies experienced temporary closures and export difficulties. Companies in the Sahel region (Mali, Niger, Chad and Senegal) suffered the greatest impacts. Forecasts from the African Union show that imports and exports from the continent could drop by 35%, which would account for around €250 billion. In addition, the consequences of COVID-19 induced lockdowns threaten more than 20 million jobs in Africa.

Businesses call out for support

The survey results show that companies are in need of support in logistics and input supply as well as cash management. The results also indicated a need for support with relations with external operators and suppliers, as well as with training of staff. To this end, one in three responding chambers organized training for companies.

Although the CPCCAF survey questions did not address the informal sector, many chambers expressed concerns, especially with regard to the consequences of government confinement measures.

Chambers play a decisive role in managing the crisis

Three-quarters of the chambers and intermediary organizations interviewed report that public authorities asked for their expertise during the crisis.

The COVID-19 crisis has revealed the very real digital challenges Africa is facing. Two-thirds of chambers in French-speaking Africa reported that they were unable to promote teleworking as companies lacked adequate digital tools and devices. One solution offered by chambers was to encourage companies to adapt their leave calendars. Chambers, including the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Gabon, have also played a role by accommodating the National Monitoring and Response Committee of COVID-19 in their premises.

This unprecedented crisis has brought many challenges with it. Public authorities need to strengthen consular chambers in their efforts to provide information and support businesses in the field. The services that chambers offer are essential for the development of the business ecosystem in these challenging times.