Highlights of 26 years of WEF on Africa

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has been held for over 40 years, with Africa’s involvement and its interests at the heart of a dedicated annual continental forum since 1990. Here are some of the highlights from those 26 years in preparation for the forthcoming WEF on Africa to be held in Rwanda in May 2016.

1990 and 1991

WEF’s first Africa meeting took place in Geneva, Switzerland in 1990, featuring participants from business, government and civil society, including many burgeoning economy policymakers and business leaders from South Africa.

The priority was to gain international support for South Africa’s future, as a united front featuring both Thabo Mbeki, chief economic policy maker for the African National Congress (ANC), and the National Party government’s finance minister Barend du Plessis. They took the findings of the forum on a roadshow through Africa and major international financial centres to drum up support for a smooth economic transition to a democratic South Africa.

The following year, the forum held again in Geneva, took a more pointed focus on the rest of Southern Africa, with the theme “Opportunities for Growth and Development in a Southern Africa in Transition”.


Then South African President FW de Klerk, Nelson Mandela and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the three primary players in political and economic negotiations in South Africa, presented a united front at the 1992 WEF Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Mandela chose the occasion to make his first speech on South Africa’s economic future under the ANC and credited the forum with inspiring his reversal of ANC policy on nationalisation of the mining industry.


This was the first year WEF on Africa was held in Cape Town. It was also the first time many of the world’s leaders, particularly African heads of state, visited South Africa. The country remained a regular host over the next 20 years.

The 1993 event saw the creation of the ten-year Global Leaders of Tomorrow initiative that heralded the emergence of new economic players out of Africa, including some of the most prominent and powerful players in African affairs today such as Cyril Ramaphosa, Patrice Motsepe and Ugandan-born Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam.


The 1998 event, held in Windhoek, Nambia, saw the launch of the first Africa Competitiveness Report, one of the world’s most vital economic barometers.


WEF in Durban, hosted by then-President Mbeki, saw the emergence of his African Renaissance concept that focused on regional integration for the continent.


The rise of social entrepreneurs, and the founding of WEF’s Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship were some of the highlights from 2001. The Schwab Foundation brought acclaimed Africa-based social enterprises to international attention.


Almost 150 global and regional companies doing business with Africa endorsed the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad).


The WE Forum of Young Global Leaders was launched, including 16 up-and- coming African economic players, some of whom were integral to the success of the 2005 WEF Africa summit.


Under the theme, “Capitalising on Opportunity”, the 18th WEF on Africa focused on raising the quality of leadership and education to capitalise on the growing opportunities available because of the continent’s economic growth and significant decrease in conflict.


With the largest gathering of African heads of state and over 1 000 global economic players from 85 territories, WEF on Africa celebrated its 20th Forum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, under the theme “Rethinking Africa’s Growth Strategy”. It re- evaluated global changes, such as the 2008 economic downturn, and its effects on African economies.


The Grow Africa initiative, co-founded by the African Union Commission, Nepad and the WEF, was the hallmark of the 2011 Africa event, held in Cape Town. It focused on an African-owned, country-led, market-based and an inclusive approach to accelerating investment in sustainable growth with an emphasis on agriculture.


The 25th World Economic Forum on Africa was held in Cape Town with the theme “Then and Now: Reimagining Africa’s Future”.

With over 1 250 participants from business, politics, civil society, academia and the media, the forum was the largest WEF event ever held in Africa due to an increased number of female participants and young, economic minds from the continent.

The milestone was seen as an indication of the unprecedented levels of commitment by global private-public economies to achieving Africa’s transformation. A continuing investment of over $10-billion (about R151-billion) in the Grow Africa initiative saw the creation of almost 60 000 agriculture jobs in 12 countries.

Over 8-million smallholder farmers received assistance from the programme. The WEF Africa Strategic Infrastructure Initiative has also helped accelerate 23 cornerstone projects across the continent valued at $9.7 billion (about R145-billion).

Source: World Economic Forum