Africa's political and economic elite will gather under the banner of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Cape Town, South Africa from tomorrow to seek ways to boost growth and trade for the world's poorest continent.
Host President Thabo Mbeki and his counterparts from countries like Mozambique, Zambia and Senegal will be joined by leading business figures, Cabinet ministers and central bankers for the 17th annual WEF on Africa.
Some 700 delegates from 42 countries are to attend the three-day meeting, beginning on Wednesday, to study ways in which the southern continent can help itself to a larger slice of the global economic pie.
The forum is coming at the heels of the G-8 summit which just ended in Germany with a pledge from the industrialised world to provide $60 billion to support Africa to combat diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS.
But observers are sceptical of tangible outcomes from the meeting, whose agenda also include issues such as combating terrorism and climate change since pledges from the industrialised world are hardly honoured.
At the G-8 summit in Gleneagles in Scotland, there was an indication that the G-8 countries would provide $50 billion to enhance aid for Africa by 2010 but as of now only $25 billion had be delivered with only three years to the deadline.
"The focus of the summit is really to address capacity constraints and skills gaps and frustrated efforts to sustain and boost growth," the WEF's Africa head, Haiko Alfeld, told reporters in Johannesburg at the weekend.
"We must do several deep dives into how this capacity can be built and how business can contribute to make technology resources available to build skills," he added.
The continent's overall economic growth stopped just shy of six per cent last year and a United Nations report released last month predicted a similar rate in the following year.
But the overall figure masks major disparities in performance.
While oil-rich Angola enjoyed a 17.6 per cent growth rate last year, Zimbabwe — encumbered by the world's highest inflation rate — registered a negative 4.4 per cent.
The economic meltdown in Zimbabwe is among the topics to be discussed by delegates, amid growing fears about its impact on the wider southern Africa region.
The meeting will also consider the impact of Africa's growing economic ties with non-traditional partners like China, India and Latin America.
According to the South African Institute for International Affairs Trade Economist, Philip Alves, the forum is unlikely to address key constraints to African growth like unbalanced global trade and corporate governance concerns about trading with countries like China.
With its agenda themed, "Raising the bar", the forum is set to discuss human resource development to push economic growth.
Alves welcomed a realisation that "Africa's biggest problem is human capacity" and said the focus should be on schooling, health provision and skills development.
Alfeld said there would also be a close look at expanding infrastructure like bridges, roads and hospitals, as well as energy generation.
"There really is a sense now that we are moving into a new phase of Africa's development," said a WEF statement.
"What we are talking about now is a virtuous circle that will continue to improve the state of its people, raise the bar for the continent and make success stories the norm."
While the forum might be useful to create awareness of some issues, "it does so within a global framework stacked up against Africa," said Iraj Abedian, chief economist for Pan African Investment and Research Services — a private risk analysis service.
"People are prepared to pay exorbitant fees to attend, so we must assume there is some value in it. But is that value for the poor and for development? I suspect not," he added.
Hassen Lorgat, the spokesperson for the South African Non-Governmental Organisation Coalition, doubted the WEF would delve into the real reasons for economic imbalances, like Africa's high debt burden.
"They will not talk about indigenous business development. They come here to talk about an easy ride for overseas business people. Africa is still a net exporter of raw materials, but will they discuss that? They won't!" he lamented.
Source - AFP