Propelled by high growth and an expanding middle class, Africa has entered a new chapter in its history, and its countries must change the way they relate to the rest of the world and to each other, South African President Jacob Zuma told the opening session of the 21st World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town on Wednesday.
“You can no longer talk about the old Africa,” Zuma told the gathering of more than 900 business, government and civil society leaders from 60 countries. “We need to develop very urgently partnerships that are different from the past, relationships that benefit Africa more.
“If Africa is one of the fastest-growing regions and has a billion people, then we need to think differently about how we interact with the world,” Zuma said. “We also need to consider how we interact among ourselves. We need to develop a common approach to the problems of the continent.”
The theme of the three-day meeting is “From Vision to Action, Africa’s Next Chapter”.
Africa is emerging on the global stage at a time of rapid transformation, multiplying risks and enormous opportunities, KPMG International chair Timothy Flynn told delegates. “We are in a world of velocity, change and volatility.”
Rising fuel and energy prices and the impact of global challenges such as climate change and water scarcity were additional challenges, said Nestlé board chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, adding: “We are now moving into a period where food security will be at the forefront of strategic thinking.”
The mounting demands of young Africans, including the youth in Tunisia and Egypt who drove protests that led to recent changes in the political leadership of those countries, are putting even more pressure on the continent’s leaders.
“It is an intergenerational power shift,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. “The young generation is becoming more powerful. They want to be in control and to feel empowered, but are very impatient as far as bureaucracy and corruption are concerned.”
Yet the potential for Africa has never been greater. “We have seen real improvement in governance and accountability,” said Rajiv Shah, administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAid).
However, this “new dawn” had to be sustained,” said Jubril Tinubu, group chief executive of Oando, Nigeria, one of the co-chairs of the meeting. “We have only started the beginning of the marathon.” Tinubu hailed efforts to bring peace to Africa, once regarded as “a continent of conflict”, adding: “Once there is strife, jobs cannot be created and everything grinds to a halt.”
Eskom Holdings chairman Mpho Makwana, another of the meeting’s co-chairs, said there was now “consensus on the idea of Africa as a meaningful growth opportunity that can be harvested at scale … We used to deal with Africa as a developmental case, but it is now a sizeable market.”
What Africa needed was strong leadership and a resolve to address critical development impediments such as poor infrastructure, Makwana said.
Countries also had to focus on promoting inclusive growth – “inclusive of women, youth, civil society and the physically challenged,” said Linah Mohohlo, governor of the Bank of Botswana. At the same time, she said, “We need to strengthen initiatives to diversify our economies.”