23 January 2013

Africa: President Blames Continent's Bad Image On 'Stories From Elsewhere'

Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN
An M23 rebel soldier.

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame has told a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum that to change Africa's perception globally as a trouble hotspot, its story "must" start to be narrated by Africans.

"For me the major problem I see is that Africa's story is written from somewhere else and not by Africans themselves," said Kagame amid applause from the audience including several African leaders and business executives. "...That is why the rest of the world looks at Africa and Africans, and wants to define us. They want to shape the perception about Africa."

President Kagame was Wednesday afternoon contributing to a topical discussion: "De-risking Africa". On the panel included South African President Jacob Zuma and Nigerian counterpart Goodluck Jonathan. There was also Sunil Mittal, CEO of Bharti Airtel, the parent company of Airtel Rwanda. President Kagame was not on the panel, but was seated among the audience.

He added: "The best thing we can do for ourselves is own our problems, own our solutions, and write our own story. That will also give the right definition about the levels of risk, and the perception part coming from outside will also be put in its right place."

The President's comments came after his South African counterpart Zuma also criticized the theme of the discussion which he said was creating the impression that Africa was too risky for business. "What is risky about Africa that needs de-risking," he said as the CNBC host of the discussion struggled to rephrase the questioning.

International Crisis Group president Louise Arbour said Africa was making progress through the regional blocs. She however added that these blocs were being "distracted" by raging conflict in most of the regions - away from crucial political and economic reforms.

Graham Mackay, Executive Chairman of South African brewer SABMiller said Africa was experiencing growth, but also added that the "infrastructure deficit was widening".

"Investment into infrastructure is being made but not keeping up with the economic growth," said Mackay, who controls Africa's largest brewer.

In the latest World Economic Forum competitive index, Rwanda emerged at 63 globally, dropping 7 places compared to the previous rankings. Several reforms mainly in the investment sector have resulted in only a few hours to set up a business in Rwanda.

Sunil Mittal, CEO of Bharti Airtel, the parent company of Airtel Rwanda, said in terms of putting more efforts to set up the necessary infrastructure which will ease the cost of doing business, Rwanda was doing "extremely well".

Meanwhile, on Wednesday morning, President Kagame was at the breakfast with Global Business Leaders. Tony Blair, former British PM and current advisor to President Kagame, also attended this breakfast discussion. The four-day World Economic Forum is taking place at its usual home, the mountainous Swiss resort at Davos.

A regular participant at the WEF, President Kagame will be attending a variety of panels with topics including Africa's economic growth as well as the largely untapped potential for agriculture investment.

On Thursday, January 24, President Kagame will be a panelist in a session entitled "Challenges and Transformation shaping Leadership Context in Africa. On that same day, President Kagame will join African Heads of State including Ali Bongo of Gabon, Hailemariam Desalgn of Ethiopia, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Raila Odinga of Kenya and Jacob Zuma of South Africa in an interactive discussion entitled "Africa's Promise: How can Africa's leaders deliver on the continent promise" moderated by African Development President Donald Kaberuka.

President Kagame will also be attending sessions focusing on the role of leaders in shaping the future and collaborating in finding solutions to common global challenges.

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