Ensuring Africa's voice is heard: African Business spoke to the Africa Director of the WEF, Katherine Tweedie, about this year's programme, which again promises to be invigorating and varied in terms of coverage.

Position:World Economic Forum - Interview

Omar Ben Yedder: We now live in a fast-moving environment; what we've seen happening in the past year would have once taken five years or more to unfold. In terms of our response to these changing circumstances, is it more difficult to find an agenda that reflects the needs of African countries?

Katherine Tweedie: You can look at it a number of different ways. One is that the world has shifted incredibly over the last 18 months and I think for us to be responsible, we need to address what those shifts are and what the implications are for African economies. That covers much of what we have tried to address in the programme. However, there are certain topics, certain issues, which are longstanding and which continuously need to be addressed. It is important to track progress year after year even if we get criticised for bringing up some of the same topics, agriculture, for example, being one such topic. We're trying to find a good balance between finding some of the fast-moving shifts and also making sure we don't lose track of the important long-term priorities.

AB: Looking at last year's WEF-Africa, there was much talk of Africa as an exciting investment destination and many countries were benefiting from high oil and commodity prices. This year, world commodity prices have retreated sharply, affecting many countries in the sub-regions. What we can expect economically in the next year?

KT: We definitely can't stick our heads in the ground and say Africa hasn't been affected by the crisis. We've been particularly exposed in certain areas, such as commodities, and certain industries, such as the automobile sector. However, I also think that are a lot of positives that we can highlight, especially within the banking sector. If one looks at banks in South Africa or Nigeria, none of them have actually required a bail-out and that was due to them pursuing relatively conservative fiscal policies and a restricted exposure to international assets, which at the time was somewhat criticised but, in retrospect, it managed to keep African banks relatively insulated.

I also think that credit policies have been relatively conservative, which means that we have averted the creating of a credit bubble with cheap credit. I think one of the interesting things, even if growth is expected to slow to below what we were forecasting 18 months ago, is that when you compare overall GDP growth for Africa, it's positive. An investor looking for real growth would...

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