After WEF: Agriculture and youth are biggest winners

Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Klaus Schwab (centre) with South African President Jacob Zuma (left) and Vice-President of Ghana Kwessi Amissah-Arthur during the opening plenary session on the second day of the World Economic Forum meeting on Africa in Cape Town on June 4, 2015. PHOTO | RODGER BOSCH |

What you need to know:

  • Country cited for success in proposed Galana irrigation project, Mpesa and strong cooperatives
  • The Cape Town meeting also set the stage for next month’s International Conference on Financing for Development to be held in Addis Ababa.

IN CAPE TOWN

The imposing mountains of Cape Town, South Africa’s port at the southernmost tip of the continent, provided the postcard-perfect backdrop as 1,250 participants from 75 countries converged for the World Economic Forum on Africa from June 3-5.

The event marked 25 years since the continent’s version of the ultimate global meeting of government and the private sector was first held. It also attracted the largest number of participants ever with the theme Then and Now: Reimagining Africa’s Future in a year that marks the deadline to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

The pre-meeting overview notes provided an optimistic outlook, pointing out that Africa had over the past decade and a half demonstrated economic turnaround, growing two to three percentage points faster than the global gross domestic product— with regional growth projected to remain stable at 4.5 per cent this year, buoyed by rising foreign direct investment particularly in the natural resources sector, increased investment in infrastructure and higher agricultural production.

“The onus is on leaders to address systemic structural changes that can boost investment, enhance competitiveness, strengthen risk resilience and harness opportunities arising from technology adoption in all sectors,” said the WEF, stressing the need for double-digit growth.

As is tradition, the forum provided an opportunity to deliberate on various issues affecting the continent, network, launch reports, and hold private meetings.

The packed programme took on a wide range of issues in one-hour sessions at the Cape Town International Convention Centre under three pillars: marshalling resources, enabling markets and inspiring creativity.

Discussions broadly covered leadership, entrepreneurship, democracy and governance, the capital markets, industrialisation, health, environment, the digital and mobile revolution, innovation, gender equality, education, regional integration, agriculture, migration, security among others.

There were also various events on the sidelines, including a discussion on women in business hosted by Coca-Cola and WEF Global Shapers—talented youths based in various cities––, an infrastructure summit and a discussion on empowering women through partnerships hosted by United Nations Women.

ATTENDED THE MEETING

The Cape Town meeting also set the stage for next month’s International Conference on Financing for Development to be held in Addis Ababa.

For Kenya’s Industrialisation Secretary Adan Mohammed, who led the government delegation, it was an opportunity not only to engage in discussions and draw lessons from other countries but also to sell the country as an attractive investment destination.

“We are meeting players in finance, health, hospitality, agriculture and education among others. Ours is to try and find out what they want and areas where there are opportunities then take that information back home,” he told the Sunday Nation.

One of the most significant announcements likely to change the lives of thousands of young people in Africa––with Kenya marked as a major beneficiary––was the pledge by the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation to dedicate $4.5 million to an initiative aimed at providing skills training and mentorship. The Youth Empowered for Success (YES!) programme targets 25,000 unemployed and underemployed people between the ages of 18-35 and will be introduced in its first phase in Kenya, Tunisia and South Africa.

Mr Nathan Kalumbu — president of the Coca-Cola Eurasia and Africa Group and chairman of the foundation — said the youth are critical to Africa’s future economic progress.

“Over 10-12 million young Africans are entering the workforce each year, yet less than half this number of employment opportunities are available.

The Yes! initiative underscores our commitment to identifying a sustainable long-term solution to youth economic empowerment and creating opportunities that will help overcome this employment gap,” he said.

The multinational, which is partnering with Mercy Corps and Microsoft in the programme, will work with Nairobi-based organisation Kuza Biashara — which targets youth, women and small business owners––and South Africa’s Harambee Youth Accelerator that has been connecting employers and young talent.

MAJOR BENEFICIARY

“We work with communities right from the grassroots, and we chose Kenya for phase one because it has a partnership infrastructure that can allow us to bring this idea to life,” said Mr Kalumbu.

The next phase will extend to Liberia, Nigeria and Uganda and aims to reach 500,000 youth by 2020 with the integration of online interactions to bring more people on board.

The announcement chimes in with recommendations in various sessions, including the opening plenary attended by South African President Jacob Zuma, on the need to look after the interests of the ballooning youth population.

WEF also announced that the next phase of the Africa Strategic Infrastructure Initiative, a three-year project aimed at identifying and accelerating major cross-border projects through public-private partnerships, will be led by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development Agency to find ways to bridge the continent’s annual infrastructure gap.

In agriculture, at least 200 companies working with Grow Africa Partnership — an organisation founded in 2011 by the AU, Nepad and WEF to boost agriculture — pledged $10 billion in investment.

Kenya’s Industrialisation CS, a panellist at the Grow Africa Investment Forum under the WEF umbrella, was impressed that many examples from Kenya, particularly the proposed Galana irrigation project and strong cooperatives, had been cited.

“The agenda is for us to tell the story of what Kenya is doing in making sure agriculture is viable. We had, for example, Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, who described some of the things they were doing in tea farming and praised what Kenya has been able to achieve in commercial agriculture. There is also the Coca-Cola programme that supports our farmers, mostly women, and later buys mangoes and passion fruit for its products. That is the kind of good news we want to get across to many people,” said Mr Mohammed.

But throughout the forum, there was no doubt that the challenges would be hard to surmount. For example, the African Progress Panel, led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, said governments, investors and global financial institutions must significantly scale up investment in energy.

The group’s annual report released on Friday called for a ten-fold increase in power generation to provide all Africans with access to electricity by 2030.

But what about those who think forums like WEF are just talking shops? Equity Bank CEO James Mwangi, who said he held 28 private meetings with people he would have ordinarily had to fly around the world to meet, said nothing could be further from the truth.

“This is a very good forum for refreshing thought. There are many thought leaders here, and sometimes it is important to get out of your office, listen to others and know what direction the wind is blowing. I am impressed with the focus,” he told the Sunday Nation.

Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore, whose M-Pesa product was cited for changing the lives of millions of Kenyans, said implementing recommendations was key.

“Meetings like WEF are very important. But we need to move from talk to firm action,” he said.

Next year the continent’s WEF will be held in Rwanda; Kenya has pitched to host it after that.

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