Africa: going for higher growth

5 June 2006

The 16th World Economic Forum on Africa closed in Cape Town at the weekend with hundreds of political and business leaders outlining commitments and ideas to scale up successes already achieved on the continent.

“The critical challenge is to do things we know work and build the capacity to carry them out,” said South African President Thabo Mbeki.

With an economic growth rate of 4.5% across Africa in 2005, Mbeki challenged participants to ensure that such figures were more than just statistics. “Does the growth create jobs?” Mbeki asked.

The three-day meeting was held under the theme “going for growth”, and Maria Ramos, group chief executive of Transnet, noted that “as Africans we’re committed to growth because it is necessary to eradicate poverty and unemployment on our continent.”

Ramos said mindsets still needed to change among all role players in order to achieve sustained growth. She called on the private sector to show “courage” when taking advantage of opportunities in Africa and to foster an understanding that “for everyone to benefit [from economic growth], you need to work together.”

Ramos said positive economic and political changes were taking place in Africa and that it was imperative for all to “make sure that the things we commit to, we actually do.”

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said agricultural development was critical to delivering growth-led employment, and called on private business to engage with governments in developing and modernising the sector. “We look at partnerships as the key to generate further growth,” Kikwete said.

Syamal Gupta, chairman of Tata International, India, encouraged Africa to seek innovative solutions to its challenges and to promote small and medium enterprise development as a means of creating employment.

“Big companies cannot create jobs, it is the small and medium ones that do,” Gupta said.

He also cautioned participants against neglecting rural populations in their commercial endeavours. Referring to them as “the bottom of the pyramid,” Gupta said the constituency represented a large and significant economic sector that was willing to pay for services it received.

Achievements, commitments
Achievements of this year’s World Economic Forum on Africa included:

  • The signing of the Investment Climate Facility (ICF) to facilitate investment throughout the continent. The ICF, endorsed by the Africa Economic Summit and the G8 in 2005, was launched last week with US$100-million in funding. 
  • The Nepad e-Schools Initiative, whose demonstration project will fund e-access in 120 schools across 16 African countries by mid-2007. The initiative aims to reach all 600 000 African schools within 10 years. 
  • The Forum’s Global Health Initiative, which launched guidelines for large companies to support HIV/Aids programmes within their supply chain, as well as employer-based malaria control programmes. 
  • The Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative, with 103 signatories representing US$500-billion in turnover, which is now engaging the African business community in its efforts.

Future commitments made during the meeting included:

  • The World Economic Forum’s public-private partnership to strengthen healthcare systems in Africa by addressing epidemic and pandemic diseases in particular. The partnership will be implemented at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2007 in Davos. 
  • The Forum of Young Global Leaders’ commitment to:
    • Sponsoring a film series on African success stories.
    • Launching a financial literacy programme in Rwanda.
    • Establishing leadership development institutes throughout Africa.

Managing director of the World Economic Forum, Peter Torreele, concluded the final session of the meeting on Friday by praising the economic and social progress in Africa over the past 10 years, an achievement he described as “absolutely outstanding.”

“Throughout all of this, our belief has been that by bringing business together with governments and civil society, those partnerships could unlock Africa’s great potential, and would allow the continent to assume its proper role in the global economy.” reporter

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