, ADDIS ABABA, May 9 – African leaders, business executives and civil society members meet in the Ethiopian capital Wednesday to discuss Africa’s growth potential at the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The conference will focus on boosting public-private investment and boosting economic diversity in order to kick start development across Africa, said Elsie Kanza, WEF’s Africa director.
“How can growth be inclusive, how we can ensure that development improves, that people’s lives improve and the majority of people really benefit?” she said, explaining the themes of the meeting.
Over 700 people are expected to attend the conference, including eight African heads of state and Britain’s former prime minster Gordon Brown.
African leaders from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda and Tanzania will be at the event, Kanza said.
The three-day conference will feature sessions focused on job creation, environmental sustainability, promoting good governance and looking at how African countries can benefit from rapidly growing economies such as China.
The forum is co-chaired by several political and economic leaders, including Kofi Annan, former head of the United Nations, and the president of the China Investment Corporation Gao Xiqing.
Africa has experienced rapid growth in the past decade, which is expected to reach six percent in 2012. In the previous decade, seven of the world’s fastest growing economies were in Africa, and foreign direct investment has surged, boosting growth even further.
Following independence, much of Africa relied on foreign aid from former colonial rulers. But international investment has boomed since the 1980s, namely in mineral and oil sectors.
In recent years however, foreign companies have expanded interests beyond minerals to agriculture, manufacturing and the service sector, which Kanza hailed.
“The challenge with (mineral) sectors is they tend to have very limited linkages with the economy, they tend to operate in isolation, so we don’t see much trickledown effect,” she said.
Though Africa’s growth has been impressive in recent years, Kanza admitted that major challenges persist, namely poor infrastructure and weak governance.
“We have an interest in having frank discussions about that because unless we are able to address problem ‘x,’ we won’t see investment accelerate,” she said.
This is 22nd WEF meeting on Africa, and the first time Ethiopia has hosted the conference.