OPINION: WEF Africa - What did it all mean?
So, in a whirlwind of open forums, workshops, meetings, networking and a cultural soirée, the World Economic Forum (WEF) for Africa 2015 is over for another year. You may well ask what it achieved.
Despite its strong economic growth, improving business environment and better politics, many Africa observers still see the glass half empty as they feel that the challenges that the continent faces outweigh the benefits and will ultimately overwhelm its citizens.
What I observed at the forum was a very sincere effort to find solutions, and particularly uniquely African solutions, to overcome these challenges and thereby create opportunities.
As we all know, Africa needs spending on infrastructure to enable it to continue to grow. Today this does not only mean railways, harbours and roads, but ICT infrastructure is a key component of a country's infrastructure. The energy sector and particularly electricity remains a challenge in almost all the countries on the continent.
At the forum, a senior ICT executive said that good access to broadband can raise GDP growth by 1%. Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and currently chair of the WEF Global Strategic Infrastructure Initiative, said that the continent's growth could be increased by 2% with the right infrastructure. We would then be talking about 8% GDP growth for the continent as a whole.
Many participants mention that better planning by governments and better implementation of existing plans and legislation is required. Jacob Zuma, president of the Republic of South Africa, said that there is enormous political will across the continent to co-ordinate and implement regional projects. He used a political example of how the African Union has focused on dealing with coups d'etat on the continent, which has reduced them significantly, to illustrate what can be achieved.
So is the forum just a 'talk shop' as many people feel. I believe that the talking helps, especially with so many high-powered individuals from across the business and political spectrum. As Jacob Zuma put it, "discussions at the World Economic Forum help governments understand investors' concerns first hand." Talking helps to improve the understanding of the issues from different perspectives and will ultimately add to and improve the way policies and investments are developed in the future.
On the other hand, the WEF has 61 specific projects, many of them focused on developing markets and areas of interest to Africa. These run independently of the annual conferences and continue from year to year. The WEF's Young Global Leaders Network brings tested and proven young leaders together and helps them collaborate to bring about and empower change. The thoughts and outcomes of a workshop that I took part in on 'Leapfrogging to Africa's Digital Future' are shared via the WEF's 'Mapping global transformations' hub and this is a live repository for these ideas from global contributors.
So, in summary, I believe that the WEF for Africa is an important cog in the engine of transformation for the continent. Although it is about networking and a 'talk shop' it provides a unique platform for the development of solutions to the complex challenges that the developing economies of Africa face.
Paul Clark is portfolio manager and Africa specialist at Ashburton Investments. Follow him on Twitter: @Paul23Clark