World Economic Forum on Africa
Cape Town, South Africa, 4-6 June 2008
African countries should focus on raising the quality of leadership and education to capitalize fully on the growing opportunities available thanks to strong economic growth and the significant decrease in conflict in recent years, business and government leaders said at the closing session of the 18th World Economic Forum on Africa. Nearly 900 business, government and civil society leaders from 50 countries participated in this year’s World Economic Forum on Africa.
"There is much better clarity in the political leadership on the continent about where we need to go," Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa, observed. "There is greater clarity on how to respond to economic challenges. And there is an appreciation of the need to deal with conflict." Later, Mbeki added: "It is necessary to refashion the education system so that when young people come up they are better able to join the economy."
While acknowledging the significant progress that Africa has made, Wendy Luhabe, Chairperson of South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation and a Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa, warned that "there clearly is a crisis of leadership not just in Africa but in the world." She cautioned that what she called "the conspiracy of silence among African leaders" to address critical issues makes it difficult for the continent "to translate its challenges into what we would consider to be unprecedented opportunities".
The opportunities are enormous, Aliko Dangote, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Dangote Group in Nigeria and another meeting Co-Chair, agreed. "The environment has totally changed because we have better political stability." Dangote identified the continent’s poor infrastructure as a "massive challenge". Fellow Co-Chair E. Neville Isdell, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Coca-Cola Company in the United States, said that it is crucial for Africa to leverage its comparative advantages and reinvest its gains to enable it to move up the value-chain. To do this, "business needs to join with government and civil society to improve skills," Isdell argued. Concluded Sadako Ogata, President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency and another meeting Co-Chair: "There is a gap between the skills of those in schools and the jobs they would aspire to fill." Public-private partnerships are essential to address this and other challenges confronting Africa, Ogata reckoned.
Earlier, Børge Brende, Managing Director of the World Economic Forum, praised the positive outlook of participants and the commitment among the leaders of the continent to "pro-growth policies" which he said are "a requisite for fighting poverty".