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Political, Business Leaders Gather for Africa Economic Forum


Africa's political and business elite are in Capetown, South Africa, for the opening of the World Economic Forum on Africa. Five heads of state and more than 700 delegates from 42 countries are seeking ways to boost growth, build capacity and encourage private foreign investment. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our bureau in Johannesburg.

Organizers of this year's World Economic Forum on Africa note that Africa is registering economic growth rates of five percent or more and democratic elections are increasingly the norm.

As a result, they say the focus of the three days of meetings between politicians and business leaders is also changing.

The Forum's Africa director, Haiko Alfeld, notes that recent summits were dominated by issues such as landmines, small arms, political governance, and the role of business in conflict mediation.

"The talk now is of growth competitiveness, prosperity, the role of business in corporate citizenship efforts, etcetera," he said.

But he noted the track record among African countries is mixed. Some posted double-digit growth rates last year, while others registered declining economic productivity.

Nevertheless, he said a lack of funding is no longer the main obstacle to African development. The main challenge is using those funds wisely.

"The focus of the summit is to address capacity constraints and skills gaps that frustrate efforts to sustain and boost the [economic] growth," he explained.

He said as a result many of the sessions this year examine ways that the private sector can help African governments build efficiency and good governance.

"That would be a real boost, if we could increasingly catalyze the role of business, use the role of business in support of public sector governance," he added.

The Forum continues to sponsor discussions on favorite topics such as climate change, malaria, technology transfer and terrorism.

But it has also introduced newer topics such as mobile phone banking, biofuels, the aviation industry and fashion.

Finally, Alfeld said that with the emergence of China and India as major investors in Africa, prominent sessions are being devoted to the realignment of international trade flows and Africa's rising strategic importance in the world.

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