With upbeat growth projections and a boom in foreign investments, Africa is a hot economic topic. African business leaders meeting in Brussels say ethical business practices are critical in sustaining this growth.
Sponsored by the World Bank, the Brussels conference on responsible business and governance in Africa is among several forums focusing on the continent. Business investment and trade were cornerstones of a France-Africa summit in the French Riviera city of Nice last June - and they will again be hot topics later this month, during a European Union-Africa summit in Libya.
In a keynote speech at the Brussels forum, World Bank Vice-President for the Africa region Obiageli Ezekwesili noted growth projections for Africa were a robust 5.2 percent for 2011, despite the recent world economic slowdown. No wonder international interest in Africa was growing.
"Africa is indeed open for business," Ezekwesili said. "But not just any business. I think that is what the spirit of (what) this conversation is about. It really says responsible business."
Ezekwesili speaks from experience - she was a former government minister in Nigeria, a country that has struggled with corruption for years - and a founding director of corruption-watchdog group Transparency International. A number of African countries are regularly ranked near the bottom of the group's corruption perceptions index.
What is critical, business leaders like South African Wiseman Nkuhlu say, is that foreign and local invesTment meet Africa's basic development needs.
"The key issue today is how to sustain this growth in the long term in order to contribute to better human development and sustainable enterprise in the continent," Nkuhlu said. "There is no doubt that strengthening responsible business and good governance can deliver a better environment for doing business in Africa."
Responsible business in Africa is also being taken up by the European Parliament during a separate forum in Brussels that ends Friday.