The 23rd edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa begins this month in Cape Town, South Africa. As previously, a heavyweight delegation comprising heads of state, ministers, business and social leaders will gather to take stock of the current state of affairs in Africa and chart the way forward. This will be a particularly significant conference as Africa makes the transition to middle income status and thus begins a new and exciting chapter in the continent's modern history.
As we have done previously, African Business is proud to partner the WEF in this great endeavour. To find out what lies in store, editor Anver Versi went to the WEF headquarters Geneva, Switzerland and talked to the people working behind the scenes.
THE THEME FOR THIS YEAR'S FORUM is 'Delivering on Africa's promise', Over the years, the forum has accurately tracked developments--or the lack of them--in Africa and provided an invaluable space for free and frank discussions from a variety of involved parties and individuals to dissect and analyse the most significant issues affecting the continent and its people.
This coming together of the great and the good in Africa and elsewhere not only focuses attention on issues that affect us all but provides an arena in which ideas can be thoroughly thrashed out and the huge variety of viewpoints accommodated.
The format of the forum is very broad. In addition to the plenary sessions, there are work studios and workshops, arena sessions where leading business and government leaders debate topics, one-on-one interview sessions, televised sessions, pre-conference meetings and sessions devoted to finding new solutions to intractable problems affecting the continent.
Speeches and long-drawn-out presentations are discouraged. The aim is to have free-flowing interactive discussions with frank exchanges. Some of the sessions are held under Chatham House rules, where the press is barred and neither the identity nor the affiliation of speakers is revealed. The aim is to provide anonymity and encourage openness and the sharing of information. While the focus is on economics and business, the WEF principle is to ensure a holistic approach since all human activities are interrelated.
Africa is in a very different place today from where it was a decade ago. It is no longer a 'problem' seeking solutions from all and sundry. It has now become the 'last frontier', the 'new growth pole' on which global economic growth is becoming increasingly dependent. It is being wooed by East and West.
But despite the continent's average 5% growth over the last decade, a great deal of work still needs to be done. The majority are still poor, many millions still go hungry, basic healthcare and education are still far from satisfactory, only a very small proportion of the population has access to clean water and basic sanitation and even fewer to electricity while decent housing remains a dream for millions.
It is only when the average African, in whatever country he or she finds themselves living, can enjoy the facilities and the lifestyle that are taken for granted in the developed world that we can pat ourselves on the back and say we have succeeded. Everything else is simply part of the journey to get to the Promised Land.
There is no reason why this should be such a long journey. Africa is bursting with resources that the whole world needs, it has vast arable tracts of fertile land, huge water reserves, a population that is large enough to form a dynamic consumer market but not too large to become a burden, a workforce that is young, energetic, hard working, very...