Business leaders and policymakers are converging this week on the South African city of Cape Town for the World Economic Forum on Africa, a three-day meeting to discuss ways of promoting business on the continent. VOA spoke to analyst Martyn Davies, who heads Johannesburg-based economic think tank Frontier Advisory, about the agenda for the event’s 25-year anniversary and what may come of it.
Q: Thanks for talking to us, Martyn. So, what is this year’s meeting all about?
A: It is 25 years since the World Economic Forum first came to this continent, a quarter century on, and how has the continent changed, and what is taking place? And particularly, if you think back, it is 21 years since South Africa has become, once again, an accepted global citizen, following the democratic process that came in 1994. So, I think there will be a bit of time for reflection. But also I think more currently is to look at the current challenges facing Africa, which has come about I think in the recent months, considering the depressed commodity prices, rising security challenges, perhaps leadership deficits in some cases and and saying that, once again, when do we start? We always talk about challenges, we talk about the opportunities, but when will we talk about the challenges left? I think that is sort of the sense I am getting from the people here.”
Q: As you know, host nation South Africa is sending a huge, high-powered delegation, led by the president. What’s South Africa’s strategy at the event?
A: I think South Africa has to continue to present itself or promote itself as a gateway, a strong word, for the continent, at least in equity and capital markets it certainly is. But how it remains relevant, in what is an increasingly fragmented continent, in many cases. But nevertheless in many cases, growth remains robust and South Africa’s growth is mediocre at best, and yet we have the strongest business corporate sector on the continent. So, how do we get our political economy working, that is the ultimate question, to better project our commercial muscle in a constructive fashion across Africa?”
Q: What do other African nations have to gain from this meeting?
A: I think it is for African states, again, it is South Africa, it is the opportunity to network with corporate South Africa. And obviously the multinationals are doing business in this part of the world, and they are all here this week at the World Economic Forum.”
Q: So what sort of real progress might we see after this meeting? Will we see economic changes?
A: I think it comes down to, does real action dome from these talk shops, meeting places? And that is ultimately, I think, the responsibility of government leaders to take from this: the great networking the great ideas that are generated, the discussions and the whole thing, ultimately, and and apply it. Does that take place? Well, some leaderships do it, perhaps, and some do not.
Q: Thank you so much.
A: Thanks so much, take care.