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WEF’s central message on Africa is ‘Implementation’
September 9, 2019, 6:48 pm

“South Africa does not do boring”: World Economic Forum participant

“We must ensure that our citizens are prepared, and, if necessary, that they are shielded from any adverse consequences. Our response must be collaborative, multi-sectoral and inclusive,” Ramaphosa noted [PREUSS]

In the opening session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa on Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in response to criticism from a panel of business leaders who bemoaned the lack of implementation of government’s plans on economic reform that his middle name was ‘Implementation’.

The 2019 World Economic Forum on Africa took place between September 4 and 6 September in Cape Town, South Africa, under the theme “Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

The meeting saw more than 1,000 regional and global leaders from government, business, civil society and academia at a time that South Africa was wracked by civil unrest. Some criminals exploited this unrest to loot shops owned by foreigners, while several females have died in recent days due to gender based violence, but the response was in some ways hampered by fake news and conspiracy theories.

On September 6, the world woke up to the fact that former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe had died in Singapore, while 1995 Rugby World Cup hero Chester Williams, died over the weekend.

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who attended the conference, said he is striving to rebuild Zimbabwe’s “collapsed economy”, and he said it was vital to understand the needs of the private sector for investment in technology that could add value locally.

Ecocash, is a trusted transactions and payments platform that has allowed Zimbabwe to continue to operate despite the lack of access to foreign capital, in part due to American and European sanctions.

Although the sanctions are targeted against individuals, the unintended consequence is that for most risk compliance officers at banks, Zimbabwe is so tainted that they suggest that other African economies are far less risky and just as lucrative.

Dramatic shifts

As one participant said, “South Africa does not do boring”, as the conference explored new models to help Africa achieve succeed at a time when technology is creating dramatic economic and societal shifts that would allow Africa to leapfrog legacy infrastructure and ways of operating. That is why there were sessions on how technology could change climate change and increase rainfall by 27 percent and reverse the effects of global warming, as well as sessions on the ocean economy, the economic impact of drones, free trade and e-commerce.

South Africa has suffered three quarterly economic contractions since Ramaphosa was elected President in February 2018. At the time he promised a ‘New Dawn’ and the briefing session in Cape Town conference was organised by Brand South Africa to highlight what progress has been made to ease the cost of doing business.

“We are currently ranked 82 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business, but it is our aim to be among the top 50 within five years. To achieve that we are actively engaged with stakeholders and a road map with short-medium- and long-term goals has been set out,” Ramaphosa said.

“We already have a one-stop investment shop and are busy with visa regime reform. The evisa system will be piloted in October and the critical skills list for priority immigrants and the Integrated Resource Plan is in the process of being finalised,” he added.

Ramaphosa started the briefing session with a condemnation of the current spate of violence that seems to have targeted women and foreigners and asked the audience to stand as a sign of respect for those who have lost their lives.

“We are a country that is completely committed against xenophobia and South Africa is a home for all. We need to live side by side and people who kill others do not belong in South Africa,” he said.

Police have fanned out across areas in Johannesburg and Pretoria as the country was racked by a third day of violence. Police have arrested more than 100 people in five areas impacted by the violence. Many shops remained closed as shop owners, many of them foreign, feared to return to their property.

More than 200,000 South Africans have signed a petition calling on Parliament to declare gender-based violence a state of emergency in the country.

“We welcome the green shoots of recovery that we saw in the second quarter GDP release, but the reality is that we are barely growing. We are hard at work at restoring growth. It is an arduous task and it will take time,” Ramaphosa said.

Real GDP growth of 3.1% quarter-on-quarter at a seasonally adjusted annualised basis was recorded in the second quarter, but most economists expect 2019 growth to be the slowest since the 2009 recession.

Seven of the 10 production sectors accelerated on a quarterly basis in the second quarter, but the labour-intensive construction, transport, and agricultural sectors remained in contractionary territory.

The majority of South Africans are appalled at the attacks on African migrants and refugees in the country by South Africans, said its Finance Minister Tito Mboweni at the opening plenary.

“We welcome all Africans who have come to this conference; we welcome all Africans who live in South Africa. We are all Africans. We need to tell our people that what they are doing is wrong. These artificial barriers we have created and the hatred among ourselves must really become a thing of the past,” he said.

Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said leaders at all levels, not just at the political level, must “dig deep to bring back social cohesion. We need to look at what binds us and not what separates us.”

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, said the rapid pace of technology required renewed frameworks for cooperation to be developed to deliver an inclusive and sustainable future for Africa.

“Africa cannot afford to be left behind. The Fourth Industrial Revolution can solve many of the issues that came with the first, second and third industrial revolutions. It is a catalyst for Africa to leapfrog into the 21st century,” said Schwab.

Inclusive growth

That is why South Africa has appointed a Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution to guide government policy to ensure inclusive growth.

“Disruptive trends and technologies are changing the way we live, the way we work and do business, and the way we govern. We must respond with agility to craft a roadmap for navigating this new environment. We must ensure that our citizens are prepared, and, if necessary, that they are shielded from any adverse consequences. Our response must be collaborative, multi-sectoral and inclusive,” Ramaphosa said.

Seychelles President Danny Faure said the over-arching requirement was for African countries to reassure their own populations and investors that they can offer a stable regulatory framework that enables sustainable growth.

“We need to deepen the reform that we are doing to better reflect the need for Africa to have what is necessary in terms of good governance, transparency, accountability and the rule of law,” he said.

While big challenges remain to translate the promise of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) into jobs and economic growth on the ground, there is a palpable sense of hope that the time for talking is over and that the time for implementation is now upon us.

Arancha Gonzalez Laya, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre likened the AfCFTA to a most delicious African dish.

“The ingredients have been assembled, the cooks are in the kitchen. The guests are impatiently waiting for this dish to be served,” she said.

Sipho Pityana, Chairman of AngloGold Ashanti, said the free trade deal is a “catalyst”, but it was now up to political and business leaders to implement the removal of trade barriers and ensure sufficient investment in infrastructure and logistics to truly accelerated cross-border trade flows.

André Hoffmann, Vice-Chairman of Roche, said Africa’s extraordinary natural heritage also needs to be cherished and is an opportunity for development.

“Nature is not something that stops you from developing, but it is an opportunity. In fact it is a $1 trillion opportunity for investment,” he said.

In terms of implementation, the meeting produced numerous notable outcomes such as an action plan to tackle the crisis of gender-based violence. This plan would work with the technology industry to deploy a free emergency response system for women under attack in nine provinces in South Africa, support for female entrepreneurs as a means of promoting economic empowerment and establish a fund to help support South Africa’s gender-based violence strategy and action plan.

The Africa Growth Platform was launched to help start-up businesses access finance, advice and better regulatory conditions. Founding partners are Alibaba Group, A.T. Kearney, Dalberg Group, Export Trading Group, US African Development Foundation and Zenith Bank.

The African Risk Resilience Platform was initiated. It will combine private-sector resources with those of governments to help countries prepare for climate- and disease-related disasters.

The World Economic Forum teamed with the International Trade Centre to kick off an E-Commerce Action Agenda. The initiative is aimed at promoting cross-border data services in Africa, an industry that could create 3 million jobs across the region by 2025.

The World Bank and the Forum teamed up with African governments to launch an innovation challenge aimed at finding new ways of using drones across Africa. The competition, supported by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, is a precursor to the Africa Drone Forum, which will be held for the first time in February 2020 in Rwanda.

“We have the wherewithal to be able to reach for higher levels of growth.  The future is great. It looks very bright for the African continent. If there ever was a time when Africa definitely could be said to be on the rise, this is the time,” Ramaphosa concluded.

Helmo Preuss for The BRICS Post in Cape Town, South Africa