WEF AFRICA: WHAT DID IT ALL MEAN?

Finweek English Edition - - SPOTLIGHT - BY PAUL CLARK, coups d’état

PORT­FO­LIO MANAGER AND AFRICA SPE­CIAL­IST AT ASH­BUR­TON IN­VEST­MENTS So, in a whirl­wind of open fo­rums, work­shops, meet­ings, net­work­ing and a cul­tural soirée, the WEF on Africa 2015 is over for an­other year. You may well ask what it achieved.

De­spite its strong eco­nomic growth, im­prov­ing busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment and bet­ter pol­i­tics, many Africa ob­servers still see the glass half empty as they feel that the chal­lenges that the con­ti­nent faces out­weigh the benefits and will ul­ti­mately over­whelm its cit­i­zens. What I ob­served at the fo­rum was a very sin­cere ef­fort to find so­lu­tions, and par­tic­u­larly uniquely African so­lu­tions, to over­come th­ese chal­lenges and thereby cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties.

As we all know, Africa needs spend­ing on in­fra­struc­ture to en­able it to con­tinue to grow. To­day this does not only mean rail­ways, har­bours and roads − ICT in­fra­struc­ture is also a key com­po­nent of a coun­try’s in­fra­struc­ture. The en­ergy sec­tor and par­tic­u­larly elec­tric­ity re­mains a chal­lenge in al­most all the coun­tries on the con­ti­nent.

At the fo­rum, a se­nior ICT ex­ec­u­tive said that good ac­cess to broad­band can raise GDP growth by one per­cent­age point. Gor­don Brown, for­mer UK prime min­is­ter and cur­rently chair­man of the WEF Global Strate­gic In­fra­struc­ture Ini­tia­tive, said that the con­ti­nent’s growth could be in­creased by two per­cent­age points with the right in­fra­struc­ture. We would then be talk­ing about 8% GDP growth for the con­ti­nent as a whole!

Many par­tic­i­pants men­tion that bet­ter plan­ning by gov­ern­ments and bet­ter im­ple­men­ta­tion of ex­ist­ing plans and leg­is­la­tion is re­quired. Pres­i­dent Zuma said that there is enor­mous po­lit­i­cal will across the con­ti­nent to co­or­di­nate and im­ple­ment re­gional projects. He used a po­lit­i­cal ex­am­ple of how the African Union has fo­cused on deal­ing with

on the con­ti­nent, which has re­duced them sig­nif­i­cantly, to il­lus­trate what can be achieved.

So is the fo­rum just a “talkshop” as many peo­ple feel? I be­lieve that the talk­ing helps, es­pe­cially with so many high-pow­ered in­di­vid­u­als from across the busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. As Zuma put it, “dis­cus­sions at the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum help gov­ern­ments un­der­stand in­vestors’ con­cerns first hand”. Talk­ing helps to im­prove the un­der­stand­ing of the is­sues from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and will ul­ti­mately add to and im­prove the way poli­cies and in­vest­ments are de­vel­oped in the fu­ture.

On the other hand, the WEF has 61 spe­cific projects, many of them fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing mar­kets and ar­eas of i nter­est to Africa. Th­ese r un i nde­pen­dently of the an­nual con­fer­ences and con­tinue from year to year.

The WEF’s Young Global Lead­ers Net­work brings tested and proven young lead­ers to­gether and helps them col­lab­o­rate to bring about and em­power change. The thoughts and out­comes of a work­shop that I took part in on “Leapfrog­ging to Africa’s Dig­i­tal Fu­ture” are shared via the WEF’s “Map­ping Global Trans­for­ma­tions” hub and this i s a l i ve repos­i­tory for th­ese ideas from global con­trib­u­tors.

S o, i n s u mmary, I be­lieve that the WEF on Africa is an im­por­tant cog in the en­gine of trans­for­ma­tion for the con­ti­nent. Although it is about net­work­ing and a “talkshop”, it pro­vides a unique plat­form for the devel­op­ment of so­lu­tions to the com­plex chal­lenges that the de­vel­op­ing economies of Africa face.

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