The World Economic Forum on Africa recently concluded, having explored the theme, ‘Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ over three days in Cape Town, South Africa.
#1 South African President Cyril Ramaphosa
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was already in the spotlight as the president of the host country for WEF, but this role took on greater proportions given the xenophobic attacks in Johannesburg that caused some keynotes and delegates from affected African countries to cancel WEF participation in solidarity with the attack victims. In addition, Ramaphosa was targeted by protesters against gender violence who demanded to meet with him to address their concerns which were heightened by a recent high profile rape and murder of a young woman.
Ramaphosa’s formal remarks at WEF were optimistic in light of the political climate surrounding the conference, “The future is great, it looks very bright for the African continent, and if there was ever a time when Africa can definitely be said to be on the rise, this is the time.” He went on to conclude, “This is Africa’s century, and we want to utilize it to good effect.”
In addition to his formal remarks inside WEF, In response to thousands of protesters marching against violence against women, #EnoughIsEnough, Ramaphosa addressed an angry crowd outside in which he agreed to consider their request to call for a state of emergency over the level of violent crimes committed against women in South Africa, along with comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system, which has failed to prosecute perpetrators of rape and murder.
#2 Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde
Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde provided a pragmatic perspective on the idea that investment and development only occur in the context of absolute political stability. She called upon those in attendance to recognize that development and political security are inter-related in a circular fashion; more peace leads to more development, but more development also leads to more peace.
She also declared that the time has arrived where the opportunities of Africa’s large youth population outweigh the challenges; the challenges remain, but the youth dividend is starting to pay returns as seen in Ethiopia’s GDP growth rate of almost 8%.
#3 Raghav Prasad, President, Sub-Saharan Africa, Mastercard
Raghav Prasad, President of Sub-Saharan Africa, Mastercard, delivered research that shows that maintaining a cash economy costs African economies up to 1.5% in GDP growth annually. When African economies digitise away from the use of cash to digital payment systems, elimination of this cost to the economy creates a great opportunity to pick up growth.
Prasad indicated that 95% of African economies operate with cash, thus producing a substantial upside in terms of growth coming from payment digitisation. In addition, he said that digitisation drives social development by advancing the SME sector, the agriculture sector, and opportunities for youth.
#4 Sipho Pityana, Chairman, AngloGold Ashanti
Sipho Pityana, Chairman of AngloGold Ashanti, brought to the Forum his perspective as the chair of a pan-African corporation and made a strong recommendation that Africa needs to soften its borders. He pointed out that skills are in short demand, and in order to achieve efficiencies, high-level skills must cross borders to take advantage of the technological opportunities that will lift the African continent.
This requires leadership that adheres to a pan-Africanist perspective, and Pityana called upon Africa’s leaders to think and operate with a pan-Africanist view in all matters, including the all-important African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
#5 Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations
Speaking to the international community, Mohammed put Africa’s “governance issue” into perspective. Her perspective, echoed by other senior leaders at the conference, is that governance is of course of paramount importance to the future development of Africa, she drew attention to what is not generally acknowledged, and that is that governance is not a uniquely African problem. Some of the biggest governance issues of the last year or two in Africa have involved global private sector companies with otherwise sterling reputations.