17 January 2013

Tanzania: Elsie Kanza - One of Africa's Most Powerful Women


Elsie S. Kanza was until 2011, one of President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete's personal assistants responsible for economic affairs. But now, Ms Kanza has taken her prowess to the World Economic Forum where she is Director and Head of Africa Region.

Before her stint at State House, Kanza worked with the Ministry of Finance and Bank of Tanzania in various capacities between 1997 and 2006.

Holder of a Bachelor of Science (cum laude) in International Business Administration from the United States International University - Africa, a Masters of Science in Finance from the University of Strathclyde and a Masters of Arts in Development Economics from Williams College, Elsie was also a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader (2011) and an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow (2008).

Last year, Ms Kanza and Kawe lawmaker, Halima Mdee were listed among 11 powerful women politicians in Africa, rubbing shoulders with heads of state who included, Malawian President Joyce Banda and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by Microsoft's HowzitMSN, gave an interview with Daily News Reporter, FINNIGAN WA SIMBEYE, excerpts:

Q: What do you think made you recognized as one of Africa's most influential women?

A: I am very honoured and humbled by this unexpected recognition. As you know, the Forum's mission is to bring together different actors to solve the world's toughest challenges. In Africa, my team has focused on addressing issues critical to Africa such as competitiveness, climate change, food security, natural resources management and infrastructure development. As head of the Africa Region, I am privileged to be the voice of these collective efforts and it is heartening that the public feels that we are making a positive difference.

Q: You have been mentioned alongside President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and President Joyce Banda of Malawi, do you have any presidential ambitions of your own in future?

A: Presidents Sirleaf and Banda have been a great inspiration to women across Africa. According to the Forum's Global Gender Gap Report, which assesses 135 countries, women globally remain under-represented in senior leadership positions. Thus, their remarkable accomplishments have also raised the bar for what young women and girls across Africa can aspire to in public service leadership. For the moment, my focus is to work with my team and our partners to help leaders in Africa deliver their political, economic and social agendas for the benefit of Africa's people.

Q: What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve the lives of Africans and Tanzanians in particular?

A: The World Economic Forum is a membership-based organization and strives to achieve its mission of improving the state of the world. Through Forum meetings, partnerships have been formed that have contributed to agricultural investment, the development of sustainable water management and investments in clean energy.

In Addis Ababa last year, we launched a working group to support the African Union's Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa. Weak infrastructure is a huge handicap for Africa - and Tanzania- at the moment and our purpose is to identify ways to help the public and private sectors work together to speed up essential investments.

We also hold talks on issues of regional importance such as inter-Africa trade, competitiveness, risk management and social innovation. We are the only platform that brings together leaders from different segments of society - government, business, civil society, academia, youth, cultural leaders and religious leaders -to exchange perspectives on the same priority issues for Africa. This is important because it increases the chances of these leaders making decisions that are beneficial to society at large.

Q: How does your job differ from your previous one as adviser to President Kikwete? How can you continue to help Tanzania from your new location in Geneva?

A: My current job is all about managing the relationship between senior government officials in sub- Saharan Africa and the World Economic Forum so, essentially, it is an extension of my previous role where I also served other heads of state and government.

My team is also responsible for organizing an annual regional meeting to share strategic insights on priority issues across the continent, to decide on key regional and industry agendas, as well as to develop impactful partnerships. Thus, we play an energetic role in enabling leaders in Africa, and leaders interested in Africa, to contribute to the continent's development more effectively.

Q: How has President Kikwete's commitment to WEF and your eventual appointment as Director for Africa benefited the country?

A: President Kikwete has been engaged with the Forum since 2006 and continues to be actively engaged in our flagship, Grow Africa Partnership, that seeks to accelerate investments and transformative change in African agriculture, based on national agricultural priorities. Just last year, President Obama announced private sector commitments to invest more than US$ 3 billion to this initiative as part of the G8's New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security initiative.

Tanzania has benefited from this with an initial 19 companies making investment commitments and with donors investing in infrastructure and the enabling environment for private sector development.

Q: As a youth how are you motivating local youths aspire to pick top positions on the global stage?

A: As one of four Tanzanian members of the Forum's Young Global Leaders community I also continue to promote leadership among youth, who are excelling in different areas. There is particular focus on nurturing the Forum's Global Shapers community that comprises 20- to 30-year-olds engaged in 49 hubs across Africa, who are engaged in various innovative community development projects. There is one such hub in Dar es Salaam.

Q: The World Economic Forum on Africa meeting is in Cape Town next May. What can we expect from this in terms of helping Africa's ongoing development?

A: This year, the theme of our meeting is Delivering on Africa's Promise and the emphasis is on discussing what needs to be done to accelerate Africa's transformation from a developing continent to a global growth hub. We will try to do this in three ways; The first context is accelerating economic diversification.

Africa's fastest growing economies bear testament to the fact that both resource-rich and agricultural economies are driving growth across the continent. With consumer spending reaching US$ 1 trillion in 2012, non-resource intensive sectors such as retail, energy, and telecommunications are attracting growing numbers of regional and global investors.

We will explore new growth models that can deliver this transformation in an inclusive way; secondly is boosting infrastructure. Investments in strategic infrastructure are expected to grow the productivity of businesses operating in the region by 40 percent.

However, if we get it wrong, we risk sacrificing about 2 percent of GDP growth every year. We will discuss which new solutions are bridging the gaps in the provision of infrastructure financing and finally is unlocking Africa's talent. Home to the world's fastest growing youth population, our continent faces a demographic dividend if its human resources can be equipped with the capacity to manage and deliver growth effectively.

But we also need to create an estimated 10 million jobs every year, so efforts to promote innovation and entrepreneurship also need to be intensified. We hope to discover what new solutions can scale up job creation and enhance social resilience.

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