This is the first time I attended a World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting and naturally I was thrilled when I walked into the venue, the International Convention Centre at Cape Town, to run shoulders with presidents, prime ministers, top bureaucrats, CEOs and MDs of private sector organsiations.
The economists said so, the politicians of the developed world nodded, the investors rushed in already. But nobody put it better than the famous Columbian signer of hip gyrating fame – Shakira: ‘This time for Africa’. The song, released as official song of FIFA 2010 hosted by South Africa, doesn’t have much gyrating that Shakira is known for, but it has the incredibly innocent and sexy steps consisting of a hop, step and half a jump.
The WEF Africa summit 2011 at Cape Town completed the other half jump – the world has now taken a full jump into Africa!
A quick sample of the attendees proves the point. There were as many delegates from the US, UK, Western Europe – the developed world as were from Africa itself. Top it up with delegates from China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and Middle East et al – the emerging economies. And all these people actually came with their check books, or I would say their checks already finding their way to Africa.
Africa, otherwise also known as the Dark Continent is standing exposed now! And the onlookers – overseas investors and well as entrepreneurial Africans see it as somebody who can give as well as take – it is both a source as well as a sink. The source is because of the abundant natural resources, be it minerals, oil, hydel power, forest products, agricultural products it can give to the world; sink because of the potential consumption by more than 1 billion people who will be increasing becoming economically well off – a statistics that is stated by the fact that the last year in the list of top 10 GDP growth countries, 8 were from Africa.
WEF summits always attracts the top politicians, hence this event was no exception. We had presidents, prime ministers and ministers. Top it up with the entourage of bureaucrats who flocked with their political bosses and you have the stage ready for a blockbuster of verbosity. But I was in for an utter surprise; they seem to be extremely well versed in their maths, able to give you solutions by solving so many simultaneous equations that their economy face. Mathematics is an exacting science, hence throws you an exact answer; and the politicians did provide exact answers. They have got answers to their simultaneous equation – in terms of what to give and what to take.
The private sector folks are having it very easy. While they are more skilled to solve the business cases or let me call it as business simultaneous equations, doing business in Africa offered them no equations to be solved. At worst, it is just a one linear equation – the more you invest, the more you will get. You can invest wherever you like, high return guaranteed. There is no dearth of sectors for investment; dearth of investible capital sitting in the books of the private sector companies is the only limiting factor in their equation.
The social activists always add colour to events of this nature, especially with their commitment and passion. They are the only ones who live by what they say. Those of us who work in private sector or otherwise called ‘for profits’ and believed that money is the biggest motivator will be in for a rude shock. The motivation that the people leading the ‘non-profit’ sector with the sole purpose of making the world (read Africa) a better place to live is seen to be believed. I spent some time with Eddy, a youngster from Kenya and Munyambaza, another one from Congo who have taken it as a mission to educate as much kids in their country as possible. They were like men possessed; lack of funds, lack of teachers, and lack of volunteers or may I say lack of everything will not derail them in their effort to educate any kid they see not being able to go to school in their country. God bless them, and more so, shower them with currency notes; money in their hand is worth more.
The interactive sessions of the events were the best and offer an opportunity to sit with the brightest people of industry and government and debate on the topic given to the group. The topics set forth were of interests to Africa in general and sometime few specific countries in particular. The group work in the interactive session also offers one the opportunity make friends with your group members.
The networking opportunity offered by the event is worth the effort and money invested in attending this premier event of Africa. You rub shoulders with top honchos – in politics or business. I had my spurt of fame in the first day of the event itself as part of a group work when I spoke for five minutes nonstop my group consisting of 2 CEOs of billion dollar organisations, a minister, 5 top managers from private sector and 4 top bureaucrats about how to formulate better strategies to run their countries or their organsiation better. They were impressed and gave me a lot of appreciation and invited me to meet them in their country when I’m there next. Under normal circumstances, it would have taken a least few months to get to them, meet them and talk to them.
I returned from the event on a triumphant note and looking forward the next one in Ethiopia in 2012.