Six heads of state and high level delegates from 109 countries, of whom 48 are from Africa, were on hand when the second edition of the African Investment Forum opened today in the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg.
Unlike last year when President Sahle-work Zewde took centre stage, Ethiopia is underrepresented this year. Not even its ambassador to South Africa, Shiferaw Teklemariam (PhD), is in attendance. The government sent a diplomat in his stead to a Forum where 59 investment deals estimated to be worth 67 billion dollars are slated to take place over three days.
President of the host country, Cyril Ramaphosa, had invited Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) to attend the Forum. In fact, since he came to office, he has been invited to South Africa four times, according to people knowledgeable of the bilateral relationship between the two countries. He has yet to take up the offer.
Perhaps busy putting the final touches on the merger of the ruling EPRDF at home, Abiy tried to send his deputy, Demeke Mekonnen, at the last minute. Despite his confirmation of participation, and last minute preparation for his arrival here in Johannesburg, he too decided to cancel in order to attend the Executive Committee meeting of the EPRDF, called for Wednesday.
It will be the most consequential meeting of the incumbent party. Senior leaders of the EPRDF will vote on the single agenda on the menu, the merger of the ruling party and whether to send their decision to its council, according to sources close to the process. Party functionaries have already completed the by-laws and programme of the party that is expected to evolve, though vehement objections exist from the senior partner in the coalition, the TPLF.
Such pressing and delicate domestic affairs might have kept Ethiopia's leaders busy at home, while representatives from many countries in the continent are scrambling to get a slice of capital flowing to Africa. Organisers say the forum is more than a talking shop and heavy on real transactions. Last year, 32 billion dollars worth of deals were made, where Ethiopia had received 100 million dollars in loans to expand its national electrification programme.
"The Forum has a very simple agenda," said Victor Oladokun, director of communications and external relations at the Africa Development Bank (AfDB), the main organiser of the forum. "It's tilting the flow of capital into Africa at a much greater level than we have experienced up to now."
The largest chunk of this capital, 37 billion dollars, is expected to go to Southern Africa. The second largest, 14 billion dollars, is taken by Central Africa, while the lowest, 1.5 billion dollars could end up in East Africa. Much of this capital is to be invested in energy, infrastructure, agro-processing and the healthcare industry.
"We're not scared of investing in Africa," said Akinwumi A. Adesina, president of the AfDB. "We can't be scared of our neighborhood."
The issue this year is about "scaling up and speeding up" investment to Africa, according to Admassu Tadesse, president and chief executive officer of the Trade & Development Bank (TDA). Indeed, the Forum this year has seen 30pc larger pledges for investment than the 47 billion dollars chasing viable projects in Africa during the last Forum.