The World Economic Forum for Africa has opened its annual meeting to mixed news about the state of business on the continent. Africa is experiencing its greatest growth since the 1970s, but it isn't growing fast enough to eliminate poverty, and Africa continues to trail other regions in the global marketplace. For VOA, Terry FitzPatrick reports from Cape Town.
More than 800 business and political leaders have gathered in Cape Town to take stock of Africa's business climate and develop strategies to improve the continent's performance.
After decades of stagnation, Africa's economy is poised to grow by an estimated 6.2 percent this year. South Africa's president Thabo Mbeki opened the forum on an optimistic note.
"In many ways it's not a poor continent," he said. "It's a continent that is catching up with the world."
Economists say powerhouse countries, such as South Africa, Algeria, and Nigeria, are able to compete in the global marketplace. But 25 other countries that were analyzed for the forum's Africa Competitiveness Report lag behind the rest of the world. Economist Jennifer Blanke co-authored the study.
"Although improvements are being made in Africa, and there's no doubt that the macroeconomic environment is looking better and better, the problem is that the rest of the world is moving faster," she said. "Asian countries are just flying by, developing Asia. "
Experts at the forum note that Africa's current growth spurt is fueled largely by external factors, such as the high price of natural resources like minerals and petroleum and international debt relief.
They say sustainable growth will depend on internal factors like better infrastructure, improved governance, better schools, streamlined business laws and lower levels of corruption.
Delegates from India and China are attending the forum to offer advice about how to reach the higher levels of growth their countries enjoy.
"One of the important aspects that has fueled the growth in India has been a large domestic market," said Malvinder Singh, the Chief Executive Officer of Ranbaxy Laboratories in India. "And if you look at Africa as one marketplace and create a harmonized marketplace, I certainly believe it's large enough to have a lot of competitive growth in terms of products and services."
Not all business leaders believe Africa can copy the successful strategies of India and China. Among the skeptics is one of South Africa's leading business figures, Tokyo Sexwale.
"There is nothing for Africa to replicate or duplicate. Africa will have to find its own way," said Sexwale.
Sexwale notes that Africa contains more than 50 countries that must learn to work together to compete in the global economy. The Economic Forum continues through Friday.