After several months of planning, the 24th World Economic Forum on Africa (WEFA) finally got underway in Nigeria’s inland capital city of Abuja Wednesday, but the excitement generated by the global focus on Africa has been dimmed by security concerns in the continent’s most populous nation.
Two bomb attacks in the city that claimed a total of 95 lives and the abduction of over 200 girls by Boko Haram in Northern Borno State have heightened security fears and forced the host government to take extra-security measures, including the shutting down of the city and the deployment of thousands of troops and policemen.
The pre-forum press conference jointly organised by the organisers and the Nigerian government on Monday in Abuja was dominated by questions concerning the security situation in the country and how the government will protect the venue from terror attacks.
But President Goodluck Jonathan has assured all participants of their safety.
The WEFA, holding in Abuja for the first time, is being staged under the theme ”Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs”, a very apt subject considering the growing unemployment, especially among African youths.
About 1,000 leaders from business, government, civil society and academia will participate in the 7-9 May meeting, which convenes against a backdrop of significant economic growth, progress in reducing poverty in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa, but also persistent inequality, according to the organisers.
This year’s programme is built on three pillars: Accelerating Society’s Transformation; Deepening Investment Partnerships; and Redesigning Growth Models.
In addition to host President Jonathan and representatives from his government, other leaders who had confirmed their participation include Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya); John Dramani Mahama (Ghana); Macky Sall (Senega); Boni Yayi (Benin); Paul Kagame (Rwanda); Faure Gnassingbe (Togo) and Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania).
They are joined by high network business personalities, political leaders, investors, financial experts, civil society, policy makers and development partners.
Speaking ahead of the forum, Elsie Kanza, Director, Head of Africa at WEF, said: “Africa’s continued progress depends fundamentally on the ability of its leaders to take the bold decisions necessary to transform the region’s economy and society.
”By bringing together leaders from politics, business and civil society, we hope the meeting will offer an environment where such decisions can be catalysed, and where commitment and creativity can be drawn on to build a future fit for all Africans.”
In addition to the two-day official programme, a number of meetings will be held in parallel in Abuja during the course of the week.
Shape Africa, the annual meeting of Africa’s Global Shapers community, will bring together young, engaged people from across Africa to share ideas on how they can improve life in their home cities and countries.
The Grow Africa Investment Forum, in which the participation of a number of African heads of state is expected, aims to build on recent successes in unlocking over US$7 billion of investment for African smallholder farmers.
But what are the expected outcomes of the forum for Africa?
“I believe that by the end of this particular forum, we will see more investments coming into Africa. The forum offers great opportunity for African leaders to use it to sell the potentials and opportunities that are bound on the continent,” said Sabo Muhammed, an investment analyst.
The theme is very instructive, given the high level of unemployment in Africa despite the growth recorded by many economies in the past decade.
The reality is that this has not trickled down or translated into improve living condition to majority of the people.
Even with consistent GDP growth at 7%, inequality, unemployment, hunger and poverty persist on the continent.
This scenario was corroborated by Kanza, when she said at a briefing in Abuja: ”African continent is one of the fastest growing economy around the world, the challenge though is that this growth that we have seen over the last decade has not translated into the jobs that were expected”.
Economic analysts believe that with the presence of international investors and the renew interest on Africa as the last frontier of investments venue, African countries will grab the opportunities to attract the investors.
They are also suggesting massive investment in infrastructure and agriculture as well as the provision of enabling environment for the private sector to operate as some of the ways that more jobs can be created for millions of African youths who are unemployed.
“About 1,000 people are here with 13 heads of states and 3 former heads of states .That is a big degree of confidence on the President of this country. A big greater confidence on the economy of this country and of course a big message to (African) countries in terms of investments into the continent,” Nigeria’s Trade and Investment Minister Olusegun Aganga said.
Aganga said Nigeria and Africa stand to benefits from hosting the WEF, despite the various challenges confronting the continent.
“The benefits will be there for Nigeria, for ECOWAS, and for Africa. Many businesses have come from different parts of the world to look for opportunities,” he said.
WEF, organisers of the meeting, is an international institution committed to improving the state of the world through public-private cooperation in the spirit of global citizenship.
It engages with business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional as well as industry agendas.
Set up in 1971, the not-for-profit foundation has its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.