Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reflections on the World Economic Forum for Africa

"We produce what we don’t consume and we consume what we don’t produce."

The World Economic Forum for Africa concluded on Friday May 7 in Dar-es-Salaam. We put up a post about the beginning of the forum, but this post is to draw some conclusions and invite opinions as to the direction of Africa's economy as a whole.

The title of this post is a line from Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete's speech, which was extracted from his quote on this press release. It describes the disproportionate ways in which African economies are integrated into the world financial markets. That is, the trend has so far been for African countries to produce and export goods and services while return are of lesser value. President Kikwete emphasized that it is time to "move Africa from the periphery to the centre of the global economy."

South African President Jacob Zuma also seemed optimistic that Africa is going to experience positive economic change, especially due to this summer's FIFA World Cup. According to Zuma, “in a short period of time, Africa is going to be the place for doing business globally. Foreign Direct Investment will come on its own.”

Others, including Pat Davies who co-chaired the meeting as Chief Executive of Sasol South Africa, felt that time is being wasted, and that the focus needs to be on giving "business reasonable certainty and predictability and we can [create] partnerships". That is, yes we can talk about laws and regulations, but let's get moving.

As for youth - who are 60% of what we call "Africa" - not much was said. Ajai Chowdhry, CEO of HCL Infosystems mentioned "make your human capital capable, and entrepreneurship will happen." Of course, the Young Global Leaders Summit was held in conjunction with this conference, which may have delved into the potential of youth more than the World Economic Forum for Africa.

More comments from the Forum from various individuals can be found on the press release.

That being said, it is difficult to decipher anything concrete coming out of this conference. I just checked the World Economic Forum website and it's filled with headlines about the EU bailout package for Greece. So I would like to pose a few questions in an effort to gauge what we should really be focusing on as youth who see ourselves as stakeholders in our countries' development.

Therefore, I would be keen to discuss the following:

1. Considering that the World Economic Forum has a mandate, and that this mandate is known to member countries, and further that each member country outlines its goals and responsibilities before joining such bodies, what has this latest conference changed since the last conference?

2. Considering that the role of youth is somewhat encompassed separately under the branch of the Young Global Leaders Summit, and considering that the Young Global Leaders Summit does not seem to be run by anyone under 25, where can the youth themselves go to express their ideas for sustainable change?

3. If a forum is defined as a commonplace for open discussion, do forums necessarily have a "start" and an "end"? That is, is the purpose of the World Economic Forum for Africa to meet once in a while to check up on things, or is it rather a constant engagement with the means to satisfy objectives set at each conference?

4. Considering the response to number 3 above, is there formal protocol to host a constant engagement with the political, economic, and social roles of youth Africa?

5. About that graphic above, which I picked up from the press release "illustrations" page, why are we talking about designing and organization still? Most of (political) colonialism was done about 40 years ago, folks. Where are we in our own "design process"?

For further reading:
World Economic Forum for Africa updates
WEF reflections press release
Photo gallery
Image (above) in PDF link


  1. I was personally captivated by the messages and contributions by the Ethiopian PM and Dr. Tibaijuka during this forum.

  2. It is all too easy to get complacent with repetitive and redundant rhetoric. I can't help but think that the forum, just like many other global institutions, desperately needs to reform and show more action, rather than big "hearts and minds" wordage. they are all starting to morph into one another!!!

  3. Joji - Did you get to see them on video? Would love to embed a speech or two here!

    Tosh (thanks for reading!) - what is to be said about the efforts of non-governmental organizations who follow a similar philosophy to that of the world economic forum, especially the ones that have actually been productive (eg: a school?). what i'm basically wondering is, have historical moves accumilated to shape the creation of bodies like the Forum?

  4. i'd be loath to place nonprofits and the world econ forum in the same bracket. nonprofits are generally more like implementers, and the latter is more a platform for dialogue i suppose (between governments)--basically, there doesnt seem to exist some framework of accountability with the forum (in terms of "getting things done" or follow through), as oppose to nonprofits, which are accountable to their donors; which means things like building a school or creating a self-help group or whatever are "deliverables" which nonprofits depend on in order to exist--it's their bread and butter (which can lead to all sorts of issues--but let's not get into that here). I was really alluding to the fact that there does not seem to exist some sort of checks and balances with the forum--most forums don't ever get things done. even the clinton global initiative, which claims to be a forum with an end goal of establishing "commitments" in the end doesn't live up to its "hype". not that im trying to write a thesis here but it seems to me the most effective types of forums are led by private actors and not governments--either social entrepreneurs or even social movement actors that make up the world social forum. to answer your last question, these are the kinds of historical moves that have shaped the creation of "alternative" bodies to the world econ forum, thereby arguably affecting the shape of the econ forum as a result. make sense? dang, we could keep on going here!

  5. But surely, the Forum - like non profits - recieves donor funding too? Unless it has a solid product that is being sold...?

    What I meant by grouping non profits and the Forum in my earlier comment was that at a very base level they are initiatives that are funded and they budget based on goals (which are based on past experience). But what I am trying to find out is what is used to measure the progress of these goals? For non-profits, impact is measured in different (and yes, sometimes very concrete) ways, agreed. But what about the Forum?

    I found this questionnaire meant for CEOs attending the forum -

    Evidence of the pursuit of measurable outcomes?

    Thanks for all your comments!