30 January 2013

Africa: Let Us Hope Africa?s Momentum Holds After Davos


Every forum has its cynic, but there are few international conferences that Africa would rather be part of than the World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland.

Having just concluded its 43rd conference in January 2013, has the WEF made any difference to the world, and especially Africa?

Hardly, say the cynics. The optimists, on the other hand, see it as an annual opportunity to find investors and present their countries in the best possible light.

The WEF is one of the most coveted meets globally, and undoubtedly one of the most important. The World Economic Forum comprises of over 1,000 leading companies and businesses internationally, including leaders from the academia, government, religion, the media, non-governmental organisations and the arts.

The theme this year was Resilient Dynamism in which well heeled investors contemplated the suddenly apparent opportunities the African continent has in store for them.

Investors' interest is well founded. International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that sub-Saharan Africa will grow by over 5 per cent this year, well above the world average of 3.6 per cent.

Meanwhile, international observers enthuse that the projected growth is second only to Asia's booming economies. That is, except for one thing: infrastructure.

Poor infrastructure in many African nations has proven a major hurdle in better facilitating the current and projected economic growth. Electricity and water supplies are often unreliable, while roads in many cases are in poor condition, if not non-existent.

Also of concern is adequate institutional framework to absorb the growth and direct it towards more investment in things such as health, education, public transport and infrastructure.

There is also the issue of stability on the continent. The Head of IMF, Christine Lagarde, was quoted stating that without peace, investors and especially "the people simply won't have the confidence or courage to invest in their own future."

She articulated the general consensus that is increasingly gaining credence that emerging countries are the motor of world economic growth, of which stability in Africa was increasingly being recognised as key to world economy.

It is heartening that Africa should now be viewed in such positive light, as opposed to the negative perception often depicted in the appalling picture of unending conflicts and apparent lethargy of its leadership towards the welfare and development of its people.

Where it may be lacking in infrastructure and the necessary institutional framework, it has also gained some stability. The gains are what Africa is now reaping with economic growth now being cautiously appraised á la Davos.

The message, even as the continent's elite reached out to the investors, was simple and directed towards Cape Town, South Africa, in May 2013 for the World Economic Forum on Africa: "Africa's leaders need to strengthen the continent's competitiveness, foster inclusive growth and build resilience in a volatile global environment. Accelerating economic diversification, boosting strategic infrastructure and unlocking talent are critical success factors."

The eyes are, therefore, looking towards Cape Town for the 23rd World Economic Forum on Africa to be held under the theme, Delivering on Africa's Promise.

The promise being that sub-Saharan Africa continues its transformative journey from a developing continent to a hub of global growth, of which almost half of Africa's countries have already attained middle-income status, according the World Bank.

The World Economic Forum on Africa is expected to provide an important platform "to deepen the continent's integration agenda and renew commitment to a sustainable path of growth and development" For now, we can bask in the heartening knowledge that Africa is optimistic and that its narrative is changing from a developing continent in need of aid to one offering opportunity for growth and prosperity.

Let the optimists among us hope it keeps the momentum.

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