WEF-Implications of the Global Economic Crisis for Africa: With Government and Business Leaders Arriving in Cape Town for This Month's World Economic Forum on Africa (WEF-Africa) Summit, Omar Ben Yedder Provides a Preview of What Will Be One of Africa's Most Crucial Meetings of Recent Times
Yedder, Omar Ben, African Business
Last year, the talk at the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Africa meeting was of a continent becoming an interesting and exciting investment destination. Oil prices were hitting record highs, commodity prices were booming and stock markets were peaking. There was a renewed optimism even if certain challenges still remained, such as the food crisis and a return to higher inflation in oil importing countries.
This year the mood will undoubtedly be more sober. The realities on the ground are that Africa finds itself at a critical juncture, seeking to ensure it can continue on the growth path of the past decade. This year, the agenda is very much focused on the short-term solutions needed to deal with the impact of the global economic crisis without losing track of the long-term priorities.
The key points will be:
One of the co-chairs of this year's WEF will be Kofi Annan, who is also the chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra).
Agriculture will continue to be an important topic and will, in fact, be the subject of the main plenary sessions, which Annan will be chairing. The question will be whether Africa can become a leader in agriculture, capable of feeding itself and also become a breadbasket for the rest of the world, bearing in mind the limitations surounding water, climate change, land ownership, access to technology and sourcing finance investment.
Last year, the focus was on spiralling food prices, and the food crisis which ensued.
This year the WEF will continue addressing this issue and discuss ways of averting a future food crisis, whilst looking at the realities of agriculture and the constraints of climate change.
Financial institutions can be the major agent for change in Africa. On the back of the Africa Competitiveness Report, which discusses access to finance in Africa, the WEF will have a number of sessions to tackle this issue, looking at it across the different strata (sovereign level, institutional level and a grass-roots level).
One session, entitled A New Capital Equation, comprising an all-woman panel, will discuss the changes in capital flows into Africa, from Official Development Assistance (Aid) to remittances, as well as traditional Foreign Direct Investment. With Dambisa Moyo, author of Dead Aid and an ex-World Bank and Goldman Sachs economist, this promises to be a lively debate.
Another session, called Innovative Financing for Africa's Growth, will examine more specifically how microlending, sharia finance and new venture capital can play a bigger role in funding larger enterprises as well as the African entrepreneur.
Africa Competitiveness Report
This year's WEF Africa will see the official launch and release of the Africa Competitiveness Report. Jointly authored in partnership with the African Development Bank and the World Bank, the report looks in detail at the individual competitiveness of 40 African countries. The report covers major ongoing issues; healthcare, education systems, energy and upgrading infrastructure (particularly transport infrastructure). There are also interesting findings from chapters detailing case studies on access to finance, trade and protectionism.
Many of the topics for discussion at the WEF Africa have been selected as a result of debates WEF holds with leading decision makers throughout the year. A recurring theme from businesses across the sub-regions, from Nigeria to Kenya, Egypt to South Africa, was that of protectionism. The Forum will hold a session to discuss whether it is to Africa's benefit to implement a more protectionist stance to protect some of its nascent industries, or whether it should open up its markets completely and adopt an absolute free market approach.
The chairs of the discussion groups are drawn to create a broad international representation with Jiang Jianqing, chair of ICBC Bank; Graham Mackay, chief executive SAB-Miller; Soud Ba'alawy, executive chair of Dubai Group; Kofi Annan of Agra; and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, MD of the World Bank and former foreign affairs and finance minister of Nigeria. …