World leaders, including several African heads of state and government will gather this week in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, for the World Economic Forum.
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland the World Economic Forum
is an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world, by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.
This is the first time a West African country will host the conference.
“The World Economic Forum views itself as a partner in Africa’s transformation," said Elsie Kanza, the World Economic Forum head of Africa. “Our annual meeting which is [involves] the gathering of communities of leaders to engage and address issues of opportunities or challenges that are facing the continent.”
There are more than 15 current and former heads of state and government who will attend the conference, according to Kanza.
Critics say the World Economic Forum often attended by African leaders has become an ordinary talk-shop, which they contend has failed to come up with solutions to improve African lives.
But Kanza says the World Economic Forum is cooperating with African leaders to come up with solutions to address challenges the countries face.
“We have been working on an agricultural related initiative called Grow Africa and just over the last two years, we have had [a] $7 billion investment commitment ... mobilized for the last two years, and this has already translated to $1 billion actually being invested. And more impressively, a majority of this investment comes from African companies. It is translating into jobs and is changing the lives of farmers,” said Kanza.
The investment, Kanza says, has created 33,000 jobs and has directly impacted 2.6 million small-holder farmers in a positive way.
Some experts say Nigeria could benefit from the focus and attention that the World Economic Forum will bring on the country especially, after the West African country overtook South Africa as the continent’s biggest economy.
Kanza outlines some of the impact the meeting could make on the continent.
“The focus of our meeting is to revisit growth by paying attention to how we can ensure that the majority of Africans can participate in the growth process as well as the benefit from the outcome,” said Kanza.
“We are discussing [and] placing stronger emphasis on this is the role of women and the economic empowerment of them. Without peace and security, it is difficult to make progress in any respect as well as human rights.”
Some Nigerians have expressed worry the recent surge in insecurity across the country, including the abduction of students as well as bombings in Abuja, could mar the conference, despite the government’s assurances to improve security during the meeting.
But Kanza says she has been assured by the administration of improved security during the forum.
“The government of Nigeria is very concerned about security over all for the country not just for the conference ... the government is putting in place major security measures to ensure that the meeting takes place peacefully,” said Kanza.