WEF Africa: A continent’s hopes and dreams compressed into two frenetic days

Africa has a net food import bill of $35 billion per year, yet also has the largest arable land in the world.

A COLD and wet Cape Town greeted delegates to the World Economic Forum on Africa, which kicks off officially today, June 4. 

The weather was at odds with the hopes and aspirations of African delegates who gathered at the southern tip of the continent in this South Africa city, which is not unjustly called the Fairest Cape.

 The convention centre in Cape Town where the Forum is being held. (Photo/Johann Barnard).

The full programme, comprising around 30 discussions on each of Thursday and Friday, is centred on the theme “Then and Now: Reimagining Africa’s Future.”

The conference organisers point out that Africa has recorded economic growth of 2-3% faster than the global GDP over the past 15 years and is expected to grow by more than 5% this year.

Speaking at a pre-event briefing in the week before the conference kicked off, Elsie Kanza, the Forum’s Head of Africa, said the continent had made great strides since 1990 but that the challenges were mounting.

“We still have a net import bill [of food] of $35 billion per year, yet have the largest arable land in the world. How do we find gainful employment for a work force that will be larger than China’s and India’s in 2040? [In] cities, how do we build infrastructure to cope with the greatest migration of the world, while at the same time working to keep people in rural areas where labour for agriculture is often, ironically, in short supply.”

A delegate interviewed on Day One of the “Africa Davos” meeting. (Photo/Johann Barnard).

“What is clear is that the appetite among the Forum’s constituents and partners for public-private co-operation to solve these challenges has never been greater.”

The gathering of more than 1,250 delegates from 75-plus countries includes 90 government ministers and public figures, and 83 international companies. It is being hailed as the largest audience to attend a WEF Africa event.

The programme touches on three broad topic areas: enabling markets, marshalling resources and inspiring creativity. Topics range from technology, trade, investment, green energy and intergenerational dialogue, the Ebola crisis, security on the continent to cross-border commerce. There is literally subject matter enough to satisfy even the most curious of minds, all at a single event.

 The hallways at the World Economic Forum on Africa meeting had quiet their moments on Day One. (Photo/Johann Barnard).

The Forum is seen widely as an opportunity to build networks and position private and public enterprises to unlock this rather often elusive concept of African growth. The reality is there is no silver bullet that can magically be used to tackle myriad and varying challenges across the vast continent.

The real impact from WEF Africa will be the actions that emerge from the panels. Business and government leaders have their work cut out to  give effect to the promise of Africa rising.

The hope is certainly that the only dampener on the event is the weather.

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