Since 1990, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has held special annual conferences for the purpose of discussing Africa, and its challenges. Beginning today, a three-day session of the WEF on Africa would, for the 25th time, carefully consider the continent’s past progress, current challenges and future prospects.
Africa has reached an inflection point in its journey. Previously regarded as the “dark” continent, it is presently receiving a lot of global attention due to its rich reserves of mineral resources, rising middle class and the region’s established reputation of offering the highest return on investment globally. However, Africa has also had its share of negatives, including the Ebola epidemic, and the continent continues to grapple with serious infrastructure challenges.
Holding in Cape Town, South Africa, this year’s World Economic Forum on Africa would likely be dominated by the following themes;
Agenda 2063: Led by the African Union Commission, the continent has crafted a bold agenda for the year 2063 that seeks to “optimize the use of Africa’s resources for the benefits of all Africans.” It’s already two years into the 50-year execution timeline, and participants at WEF will be expected to examine any and all progress made in achieving this vision as well as provide an updated blueprint on the way forward.
Post-Ebola Lessons: At its peak, the Ebola epidemic ravaged the economies of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and strained the economic dynamics within West Africa. According to the World Health Organization, more than 10,000 Africans died from the outbreak in 2014 alone. Also, the three economies lost $1.6 billion in economic output, an amount equivalent to 12 percent of their combined GDPs. Although the continent is almost free of the epidemic, there are numerous lessons to be learnt and a number of practices to be inculcated in order to avoid a repeat performance in the future.
Social entrepreneurship and Inequality: As a continent in dire need of societal reorientation, the social entrepreneurship approach to doing business has been widely accepted and adopted in many parts of Africa. Today’s businesses are increasingly adopting a posture that allows them make money and also transform their societies in many ways. For this reason, this year’s WEF on Africa will present awards to the most inspiring African Social Entrepreneurs, as a way of spurring similar initiatives.
On the other hand, inequality is rapidly growing. On a global scale, experts believe that the world’s top 1 percent collectively own more than the bottom 3 billion residents on earth, so much that WEF believes the widening economic gap is the biggest current global risk. Because of these, the discussions at WEF will almost certainly include talks on how to bridge this gap and further reduce the striking poverty levels in the continent.
Infrastructure and attracting capital: From the lack of adequate electric power supply to the absence of effective road networks, Africa has grappled with infrastructure challenges for decades. The result of these gaps have skyrocketed the cost of doing business on the continent and reduced the overall quality of life for ordinary Africans. Panelists at WEF will, therefore, be expected to hold discussions around innovative ways to raise capital and mobilize domestic revenue for financing the region’s huge infrastructure gaps.
Regional integration: This has been a continental priority for over a decade because of the socio-economic gains and synergies that accrue when neighbouring countries unite. East Africa has recorded the most progress in this regard as the region has successfully floated initiatives like the Single Visa policy and the One Area Network. The free movement of people and goods have boosted the economies of East African countries and created immense wealth for the ordinary citizens. Part of the discussions at the forum will center on how to improve on this story and promote intra-African trading across the continent.