Addis Ababa — THE 22nd World Economic Forum on Africa began here yesterday with calls for Africa to maintain the growth momentum and the transformation that has revamped the continent's landscape over the last few years. More than 700 delegates including seven Heads of State and Government are attending the Forum, one of the major events on the continent's calendar that brings together governments, the private sector and civil society from Africa and other parts of the world.
This year's event, being held under the theme "Shaping Africa's Transformation", comes at a time the continent has achieved an average 6 percent growth rate.
Statistics also show that seven of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are from Africa.
The summit felt that the dominance of the Asian Tigers was fast dissipating and that Africa was taking over as the region for growth. The fact that 70 percent of the continent's population was below the age of 30 also meant that the future of the continent lay in the hands of the technologically-alert and innovative young generation that was bound to take the continent to the next level.
Former United Nations Secretary-General Mr Kofi Annan said Africa had achieved immense progress in the past few years although the continent was unlikely to meet the Millennium Development Goals as the 2015 deadline nears.
"Africa has shown reasonable progress in the last few years and hosts some of the world's fastest growing economies.
"As a continent we are also trying to generate domestic investment and we are doing well in terms of the human development indicators but not all the countries will meet the MDGs by 2015," he said. Briefing journalists here yesterday, Mr Annan, one of the co-chairs of this year's forum, said Africa needed to focus on the young people, creating jobs for the youth and capacitating smallholder farmers in terms of financing, project management and advice.
This would help the production for exports to ensure global food sufficiency.
His sentiments were echoed by African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka, who said Africa's story had changed dramatically.
"We have witnessed tectonic shifts on the global economic landscape."
He, however, warned the continent to be wary of the effects of the eurozone crisis stressing the need to rebuild buffers that saved the continent from the effects of the 2008 global crisis.
The continent's dependence on commodities also needed to be watched as this exposed it to external shows. Africa is an exporter of primary goods. However, the fact that 40 countries on the continent had discovered such resources as oil and gas meant that the future looked bright.
"These need to be managed," said Mr Kaberuka.
Walmart International president and chief executive Doug McMillon said his company's US$2,4 billion investment into Africa was testimony of the confidence his firm and other foreign investors had in the continent. China Investment Corporation's president and vice chairman Gao Xiqing said Africa was a land of opportunities. "Africa is not just a target for investment but a potential partner in many aspects," he said.
However, panellists warned that the continent needed to foster growth with equity to ensure the continent's rural population was not sidelined in the growth process. Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa chairpeson Ms Monhla Hlahla said sustainable development needed to include the youths and women. "Businesses and investors should look at these entrepreneurs," she said.
The summit continues today focusing on such aspects as the growth of the manufacturing sector, rethinking South-South relations, solutions to the continent's power challenges and entrepreneurship development.