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Uthango at the World Economic Forum on Africa, June 2009

Selected Civil Society Organisations joined WEF on Africa in Cape Town
[ By Erna Sittig on 14 July, 2009 ]

It was the World Economic Forum on Africa and leaders from across the world gathered in Cape Town at the CTICC for three days (10-12 June 2009). It was time for debate, hallway meet-ups and throught-provoking talks.

Kofi Annan

Uthango was one of the civil society leading organisations that were invited to the WEF and particularly to be part of the small private session on Investment in Africa. It was an honour and opportunity for us to share the same table as African country Presidents and top executives in the financial and investment sector globally. Uthango Director, Erna Sittig, could add a voice from civil society to the conversation.

"Graham Mackay, Chief Executive, SABMiller, United Kingdom and Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa, said the global economic crisis so far has had a relatively muted effect on the continent, at least as measured by SABMiller’s investment plans in Africa and the profitability of its existing operations there. “Our experience has been that it is much more business as usual in Africa than in other parts of the world.”

The same speaker added that the continent’s longer term growth will "require policy-makers to pay closer attention to the needs of business, both foreign and domestic". We could add that civil society needs to be included to systematically close the gap between business, society and policy-makers. In this way, it should NOT be business as usual and solutions need to be brokered that would shield the poor from further impact due to the global financial crisis.

“When world leaders break a promise, it is a sin – but when governments break a promise to the poorest people on the planet, it is nothing short of a crime,” said Salil Shetty, Director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign. Source: United Nations Millennium Campaign

We were reminded by Runa Alam, Chief Executive Officer, Developing Partners International, United Kingdom, that, despite reserves being down, most African economies went into the crisis with sound fiscal and macroeconomic policies that have allowed them to weather the storm. “Africa is growing faster than any other part of the world,” she said.

It was encouraging to listen to African leaders such as Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, and Paul Kagabe, President of Rwanda, in the "CNN Debate on Political Leaders in Changing Times" on the 12th of June 2009. This debate was brilliantly moderated by Robyn Curnow, Correspondent, CNN, South Africa.
CNN covers WEF 2009

It was a wonderful opportunity to connect with thought-leaders and foundations operating in Africa. In the week that followed the Forum, we had the opportunity to continue discussions with some of the attendees from Europe and the United States. New relationships were forged for which we are thankful.

In closure, it should be mentioned that there are innovative initiatives on the continent with relation to micro-finance and mobile banking. It did therefore not surprise that the entrepreneurial EBay Inc. founder, Pierre Omidyar and the prominent Calvert Group Ltd. are among backers of a $44 million investment fund designed to show that firms can profit from getting involved in base-of-the-pyramid markets. The newly established Leapfrog Financial Inclusion Fund is attracting global interest in the investment sector.

There was also heated debate about the involvement of China in African markets. This was put into perspective for us with the invaluable comments of Obiageli Katryn Ezekwesili, Vice-President, Africa Region, World Bank, Washington DC: "Africa’s most immediate capital need is to fill an estimated US$ 40 billion shortfall between required infrastructure spending and the funds currently available to finance such investments. She estimated that the continent could add two percentage points per year to its GDP and raise average productivity by 40% simply by improving basic infrastructure to the same level achieved by Mauritius. The needed funds – or US$ 20 billion – could be raised by eliminating waste and corruption and improving the efficiency of existing infrastructure budgets. “The opportunities the continent has with its existing resources are huge,” Ezekwesili said.

The sentiments of this influential and inspiring speaker were also echoed by the President of the United States, Barack Obama when he visited Ghana in Africa. Uthango staff members were invited to listen to his talk whilst being part of a historic discussion in Second Life (a virtual worlds' platform) with experts on Africa at the USC Centre for Public Diplomacy. The past month was indeed a time of global conversation, and left us inspired and energized.

(Source for Speakers' quotes: weforum.org)


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