Coronavirus concerns force cancellation of Africa CEO forum

Scene from 2019 Africa CEO Forum meeting in Abidjan

A high-level business conference due to take place in Cote d’Ivoire next week has been postponed, signaling heightened concern over the spread of coronavirus in Africa, which has registered relatively few cases.

But as infections spread across Asia, Europe and the United States and led to the cancellation of conferences and sporting and cultural events around the world, Nigeria and Senegal in West Africa reported five cases in the past week.

The Africa CEO Forum had some 1,800 participants last year, and this year’s edition included appearances by the presidents of Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal as well as Nigeria’s vice-president.

Senior officials from companies including Huawei, Total, Air France, General Electric, Mastercard, Maersk and Societe Generale were expected to attend.

But in an email on Wednesday, organisers of the event, which was due to be held in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan on March 9 and 10, said it was on hold. No coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Cote D’Ivoire, which is French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy.

“We regret to inform you that in light of the circumstances around the COVID-19 coronavirus, the Africa CEO Forum has been postponed to a later date, which will be announced shortly,” they wrote.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will adopt a “virtual format” for their Spring Meetings next month instead of convening in person in Washington.

Senegalese authorities reported two new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the total to four since the first case was confirmed there on Monday.

Experts say it is not yet clear why sub-Saharan African countries have registered so few cases of the virus, which could challenge fragile health systems on the continent.