The 24th World Economic Forum on Africa takes place at an important time for the continent. This year saw the death of Nelson Mandela, one of Africa’s most eminent sons; 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide; and just last month Nigeria overtook South Africa as the largest economy on the continent. It is therefore fitting not only that the theme of this meeting is Forging Inclusive Growth and Creating Jobs, but also that it is taking place in Abuja.
In South Africa, where I come from, we are celebrating 20 years of democracy. In that time, we have learned that no matter how many plans and programmes you have in place, it will never be enough. Indeed, most of the programmes we embarked on did not have the desired outcomes. Our most important lesson, however, is that we have let down our young people. After 20 years of democracy, we have failed to live up to young people’s expectations in terms of development, education and job opportunities in the labour market.
The programme for the World Economic Forum on Africa focuses on accelerating society’s transformation. We have to look at this from an African context. How has the region dealt with day-to-day issues? How have we handled the movement of goods between countries? How have we dealt with immigration? How have we forged a sense of “Africanness” across the whole continent? What have we done to provide political support to the African Union and to the various regional bodies, including ECOWAS and SADEC?
On the security issue, there is still a long way to go. We have seen the gains made by the new state of South Sudan. Yet while we celebrate their achievements and how they have established their own identity through statehood, we’ve also seen some unfortunate developments there. We are grateful that the African Union and the United Nations are making efforts in the areas of diplomacy and security to try and deal with the situation.
The region continues to forge ahead economically but we need to redesign our growth models to confront the issues of unemployment and poverty, which give rise to inequality.
Although we have experienced growth in various parts of the continent, we need to ask ourselves whether this growth has been inclusive. Sustainable and inclusive growth is required so that we as Africans can deal with our own problems related to health, education, disease, famine and the causes of war. We are blessed with a lot of mineral resources, but instead of benefitting local populations they are all too often being used to finance and support corruption and war.
Over the next few years we will hopefully improve the infrastructural base that we need to link the various projects taking place, including in water and electricity, rail linkages and ports. This is what I expect the 24th World Economic Forum on Africa here in Abuja to address.
Author: Jabu A. Mabuza is Chairman of Telkom Group and co-chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa 2014
Image: Second-year civil engineering student and first-time voter Nkululeko Simelane poses for a picture at Wits University in Johannesburg, April 22, 2014.