Notes from the World Economic Forum on Africa

Thursday 27 July, 2017

By Jill Hamilton, Regional Director, Africa, Weber Shandwick

The headline theme of this year’s World Economic Forum on Africa held in Durban, “Achieving Inclusive Growth through Responsive and Responsible Leadership“, led to many conversations about the continent’s leadership.​

Many of the reports and data shared at WEF Africa were not positive. There is concern about slowing growth rates and a continued challenge around improving the core conditions that can spark greater economic competitiveness. That is why leadership is essential at this difficult juncture in Africa’s history.

The looming demographic change necessitates action. Six out of 10 Africans are under the age of 25, which means the status quo won’t address the need for meaningful work for this very young continent. The reality is that African economies are only producing three million jobs a year, necessitating sound policies designed to enable and encourage entrepreneurship. With 10 million young people joining the work force annually, this increases pressure on the younger generations to fuel future economic growth.

It is clear that Africa is at a crossroads. In order to escape the poverty that still grips the continent, we must better harness the human and resource potential available to bring about the level of transformation and inclusive growth that is desperately needed.

The tone for the forum was set by South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma whose presentation emphasised “radical economic transformation’’ as well as South Africa’s continued issues with race relations and economic inequality. Former South African politician, Lindiwe Mazibuko issued a call to action to African leadership, asking what they can do to improve conditions.

Bold data and a strong call to action feature in Oxfam’s report “A Human Economy Approach To Inclusive Growth In Africa,” which points to the fact that high levels of inequality across Africa have prevented benefits of recent growth from reaching the continent’s poorest population. The report calls for corporations to tackle inequality responsibly and for governments to be held accountable - a theme that resonated throughout the conference.

To combat inequality in Africa, political and business leaders have the opportunity to shape a profoundly different type of economy. Their involvement takes many different forms, from public-private partnerships, to collaborating on high-level initiatives that benefit the continent as a whole. Weber Shandwick in Africa is ideally positioned to help shape the narrative in a positive manner.

All these issues point to the key issue - how is African leadership being defined at this time of socioeconomic uncertainty? Have clear goals and objectives been assigned for next year? Who is being held accountable for authentic, sustainable change? How will this progress be measured?

It’s important that these questions are asked, and even more important that governments and business collectively work to find answers.