While sub-Saharan Africa has been less impacted by the global recession than most emerging regions, the economic crisis still represents both a challenge and an opportunity for the continent and its people. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, opened this closing plenary session by asking participants to outline the actions they believe are needed to ensure the challenges are overcome and the opportunities fully exploited.
Graham Mackay, Chief Executive, SABMiller, United Kingdom; Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa, said the global economic crisis so far has had a relatively muted effect on the continent, at least as measured by SABMiller’s investment plans in Africa and the profitability of its existing operations there. “Our experience has been that it is much more business as usual in Africa than in other parts of the world.” However, the continent’s longer term growth will require policy-makers to pay closer attention to the needs of business, both foreign and domestic. Despite SABMiller’s strong commitment to Africa, Mackay said, there has been surprisingly little outreach by the region’s governments for advice on how they could facilitate additional investment. “There is a huge amount of potential in Africa and we should remind ourselves of that,” he said. However, much remains to be done to create a more hospitable business climate, he added.
Maria Ramos, Chief Executive Officer, Absa Group, South Africa, also took a guardedly optimistic view, arguing that strategies and policies that can successfully address problems such as poverty, disease, low productivity and inadequate access to capital already exist. The problem, she said, is that African leaders in both the public and private sectors have been too slow to adopt them. “We are capable of doing unbelievable things,” she argued. “We have unbelievable delivery capacity, not just in South Africa but across the continent. We have unbelievably talented people . . . The only thing that stops us is our own failure of imagination and our inability to move beyond theory to implementation.”
The imperative to move more aggressively and ambitiously extends to Africa’s role on the world stage, asserted Graça Machel, Founder and President, Foundation for Community Development (FDC), Mozambique; Co-Chair, Global Agenda Council on the Future of Africa. The continent’s leaders, she said, not only need to assert themselves more strongly in the G20 and other multilateral decision-making bodies, they must also ensure that those gains are maintained in future years. “We need to put Africa in a position where it will never again be marginalized and ignored,” Machel said.
Soud Ba’alawy, Executive Chairman, Dubai Group, United Arab Emirates; Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa, urged African officials and business leaders to reach out more forcefully to investors in the oil producing countries of the Arabian peninsula, and to favour direct investment in the real economy instead of relying on shorter term “hot money” flows. He called for the establishment of a truly regional African stock exchange, adding that the development of such a market would be facilitated by policies designed to spur the creation of pension funds, endowments and other pools of long-term capital.
Closing the session, Jacob G. Zuma, President of South Africa, said he agreed with many of the points made by participants, and said the ideas and proposals discussed at this year’s meeting would prove highly useful for leaders of the African Union at their upcoming summit meeting. “I agree that Africa has many opportunities,” Zuma observed. “The challenge comes back to the leadership: Are we able to see those opportunities and are we able to utilize the appropriate structures to take advantage of them.”
• While Africa has been less negatively affected by the global recession than other emerging regions, policy-makers still should move quickly to take advantage of the opening for reform that the crisis has created
• African governments need to listen more closely to private business and its needs, and use those recommendations to create a more favourable investment climate
• The role of women and youth in both African and global decision-making bodies needs to be expanded