Africa takes centre stage at WEF meeting

Johannesburg, May 28 :

The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa opening in Cape Town on Wednesday will take stock of Africa’s strongest growth in three decades and the impact of China and India on the continent.

South African president Thabo Mbeki, Armando Guebuza of Mozambique and Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania are among the leaders joining some 650 participants for the three-day long conference. “The general environment in Africa probably could not have been better. For three years in a row Africa as a continent has grown at more than five percent,” the WEF’s Africa director Haiko Alfeld said, “The tone is set, there is a very strong bullish mood this year on what Africans can do for themselves.”

Sub-Saharan Africa is poised to post growth of 5.8 per cent, its best performance in more than 30 years, according to the International Monetary Fund. The projected spurt is driven by oil producers, notably in light of capacity increases in Angola and the Republic of Congo and with new production coming on stream in Mauritania.

One of the issues under discussion at the Cape Town WEF will be how Africa could benefit even more from the economic growth in China and India, Alfeld said. “We will have a very deliberate focus on the impact of China and India on Africa. We’ll talk about the scale, the dimensions, the prospects of especially Chinese investments on the continent,” said Alfeld.

“We will also look at the expected downside of it like the impact on governance and labour and human rights standards. The question has been posed with rising south-south links and strong links between South Africa, Brazil, China and India if Africa should increasingly look East rather than look at the north-south angle,” Alfeld added.

A few days ahead of the WEF conference, however questions were being asked about how business participation in the meeting — described by some as a ‘meeting of the like-minded’ — would make a difference to millions of poor across the continent.

Alfeld admitted that despite being given great prominence at previous WEF meetings, Africa’s much vaunted NEPAD economic rescue plan “seems to have disappeared from the public discourse. I cannot speak on behalf of business but clearly there is a sense of disillusionment at the lack of progress and the lack of steam of NEPAD,” he said.

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development is a home-grown plan, proposed to pull the continent out of poverty by encouraging investment, and in return embrace key principles such as good governance and public and financial accountability.

Four years ago at the end of the WEF’s meeting in the South African port city of Durban, the plan received strong backing from businesses, with some 130 major companies signing up to it, with others following suit.

“NEPAD can only live if there is a realisation that there is an avalanche of success stories and countries like the Ghanas, Rwandas and South Africas actually need to get on with it,” Alfeld said. He added the meeting would be “a good opportunity for the NEPAD to be revived.”