Delegates at the World Economic Forum roll out development action plans
The buzz at the World Economic Forum, when it was not about China, centred on Africa's remarkable economic growth over the past couple of years, and around the very real prospect that it could well grow at a sustainable rate in the future.
With confirmation by the OECD of Africa's growth performance at 5.5%, its fastest pace in 30 years, 'Going for Growth' the overriding theme of the Forum set the tempo for an energetic round of talks. It also gave impetus to the resolve that Africa would prosper best by economic growth, rather than aid.
In fact, insisted some delegates, Africa should not rely solely on foreign aid to alleviate poverty and create employment, and there was mounting agreement that Africa should look to itself for solutions to its economic woes, although aid should not be disregarded as it was useful for poorer countries for setting up much needed infrastructure.
Although the continent is growing at a robust pace, its performance is not yet enough to reduce the poverty and under-development shackling many states.
With that mindset, most sessions were devoted to finding ways to boost growth, and to ensure that Africa explores every path to achieve that end especially in light of mounting doubts that G8 governments would be able to come up with the additional $25m pledged to highly indebted countries.
"We need to get more capital inflows into the continent, we need to ensure higher rates of investment in African economies in order to address poverty and underdevelopment, so we can take steps to reduce them," said South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki.
There are other obstacles in the way of increasing investment flows, Mbeki maintained, and Africa needs to improve political and economic conditions, remove barriers to doing business and improve regional trade.
In a clear reference to the damage the Zimbabwe crisis is doing to Africa as a whole, Mbeki asked investors to look at individual countries on the continent and not assume that what applies to one country would apply throughout the continent.
Maria Ramos, group chief executive of Transnet, South Africa's transport colossus, says mindsets still need to change among role players to achieve sustained growth. In her view, the private sector should show courage when taking up opportunities in Africa and foster an understanding that "for everyone to benefit from economic growth you need to work together."
South Africa's trade and industry minister, Mandisi Mpahlwa, told delegates it was imperative for developing countries to deepen trade among themselves not only as a means of strengthening Africa's economy from within, but also to reduce dependence on imports from developed countries. "And if we do that, the business community in the developed countries will wake up," Mpahlwa said, "because we shall not be opening up our markets to products from those countries, because we have failed to reach agreement on the multi-lateral process." However, he lamented the limited contact between African trade ministers, saying these happen only ahead of WTO negotiations, and hardly ever to discuss consolidation of intra-African trade.