10 May 2012
While Africa has experienced its best decade of the past 50 years, there are major challenges still to be tackled, African Development Bank Tunisia president Donald Kaberuka said at the opening of the World Economic Forum on Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Thursday.
“We should not confuse economic growth with economic transformation,” Kaberuka said, noting that the structure of African economies had not changed fast enough and that countries remained vulnerable to external shocks.
Public policy choices should target ways to leverage wealth from natural resources for broad-based, sustainable growth, Kaberuka said, identifying two key drivers for the future: the education of children of the poor as a tool to address generational change, and the development of small and medium enterprises to close the wealth gap.
Over 700 participants from more than 70 countries are taking part in the three-day WEF on Africa, the first to be held in Ethiopia.
Time for Africans ‘to take ownership’
Monhla Hlahla, chairperson of South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), told the plenary that it was time for Africans themselves to occupy centre stage on the continent and to take ownership of their lives and production.
African farmers were now in a position “not only to produce coffee beans but also to taste the coffee”, Hlahla said, but added that strong and decisive leadership was required to keep African development on track.
She said the future of the contintent called for leaders that were predictable and consistent, and that were able to move Africa up the value chain.
No growth ‘if millions are left behind’
Kofi Annan, chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and the Africa Progress Panel, Switzerland, emphasized the need to empower young people and to strengthen health and education to ensure that Africa reaped a “demographic dividend” over the next decade.
Annan told delegates that African government policies needed to create equal access to opportunities to avoid dissatisfaction in the future. “We cannot talk of growth when millions of people are left behind,” Annan said.
A lack of consensus and vision had led to a situation where each new government in Africa had a tendency to start afresh instead of building on the achievements of its predecessor, Annan said.
It was therefore important for more debate to take place to reach consensus on the direction countries needed to take.
Bekele Geleta, secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told the plenary that it was important for Africans to feel that they had a stake in their countries’ wealth, and that there was free and fair opportunity for everyone.
Geleta said the mindset within Africa was changing, with Africans increasingly wanting to shape their own lives and actively engage in their future.
Mood of ‘pragmatic optimism’
Gao Xiqing, president of the China Investment Corporation, said Africa was in the position of being able to create a new template for its future.
However, Xiqing said it was important for African countries to ensure that their growth was as inclusive as possible. In this, he said, Africa could learn from China, which had prioritized growth over development and was now facing challenges such as huge wealth inequality and environmental problems.
World Economic Forum chairman Klaus Schwab told delegates that the mood in Africa today was quite different from what it was 22 years ago, having moved from one of cynicism through scepticism and then realism to today’s atmosphere of “pragmatic optimism”.
Doug McMillon, chief executive of US retail giant Wal-Mart, told the plenary that, while its $2.4-billion investment in Africa – through the acquisition of South African retailer Massmart – the company was excited by the numbers it looked at before making the decision to invest.
“There are a lot of things to be optimistic about in the region,” McMillon said.
SAinfo reporter and World Economic Forum