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WEF: Action needed to spur African growth

LESS talk and more action.

That was the sentiment echoed by delegates at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa, which ended in Cape Town last Friday, where the spotlight was shone on the future of the continent.

The 28th African session of WEF, under the theme of Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, was set against the backdrop of turbulence in the host city- which included various protests against femicide and gender violence, and a recent wave of xenophobic attacks.

But the outside noise did little to deter the discussions inside, where President Cyril Ramaphosa sought to drive home the message to fellow African leaders, business titans and potential investors that the country is open for business. Pitching South Africa as the investor destination of choice, Ramaphosa spoke about how the country is drafting new laws to facilitate the development of the oil and gas industry, and the various ways in which the government is looking to promote inclusive economic growth with other countries.

‘We have the wherewithal to be able to reach for higher levels of growth,’ said Ramaphosa. ‘The future is great. It looks very bright for the African continent. If there ever was a time when Africa definitely could be said to be on the rise, this is the time.’

While all leaders in attendance agreed that Africa as a whole was battling to root out corruption and issues of governance, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa spoke of how his country has been dealing with the issue of a collapsed economy.

‘My country is in a different situation – very unique – it has a collapsed economy. We have a collapsed currency; none of my colleagues has experienced a collapsed currency,’ Mnangagwa said

The World Bank’s chief economist for Africa Albert Zeufack discussed how Africa’s pace of economic growth was set to pick up this year, but the recovery remained patchy amid soaring debt levels. He said macro-economic threats to the continent were growing amid escalating trade tensions between China and the US.

‘The risks to the macro outlook are mostly on the downside. The recovery on the continent will remain fragile,’ Zeufack said.

On the technological advancement front, panellists agreed that African problems required African solutions.

Vice-president of Innovation, Global Health and Policy Communication at Johnson & Johnson, US, Seema Kumar, who presented awards of $50,000 each to six tech start-ups from across Africa, said it was imperative for big businesses with the ‘means and vision’ to invest in innovation on the continent.

‘African innovators are solving specific challenges in their own communities. We believe that a great idea can come from anywhere in the world and our goal is to harness these ideas in order to make the world a better place,’ said Kumar.

Meanwhile, as protesters outside the conference venue marched in solidarity against gender-based violence, Namhla Mniki-Mangaliso of African Monitor, an NGO, spoke of the social and economic consequences of failing to find ‘extremely creative practices’ in dealing with the war against women.

‘It would take a click of a finger for a tech company to say we are going to deploy a software that can assist us with an emergency response system for poor women in South Africa free of charge,’ she said.

While there remained much optimism about the rise of intra-African trade following the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Botswana President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi said the focus should be on the practicalities of easing cross-border commerce.

‘We need to remove all the barriers and put in the enablers to facilitate free trade, beginning in our neighbourhood,’ he said.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa said AfCFTA could be ‘the greatest opportunity for economies on the continent to generate growth through trade.’

Empowering women across the continent remained a key factor in bridging the gender pay gap and eradicating gender discrimination and inequality.


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