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World Economic Forum on Africa Focusing on Global Economic Downturn

Hundreds of political leaders, businessmen and economists have gathered in South Africa for the World Economic Forum on Africa. The three days of discussions in Cape Town this year are focused primarily on the world economic downturn and how to lessen its effect on African economies.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma Wednesday opened the World Economic Forum on Africa telling delegates that they were meeting in difficult times.

He noted that industrialized economies have responded to the world recession and its related job losses with stimulus programs and widened social safety nets. But he said developing nations do not have these resources.

"For most African countries, that are still highly indebted and dependent on aid for their revenues, the continuation of the current crisis will mean increased starvation, poverty and child mortality," said Mr. Zuma.

He said African governments should try to cushion African people against the impact of the crisis but added that they should also respond by planning for a recovery.

Mr. Zuma said the global economic crisis highlighted the need to reform the international financial system and multilateral lending groups like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

But he warned against overreacting by raising protectionist barriers and called for renewed efforts to conclude the Doha round of trade talks.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also warned of the harmful effects of the global recession on Africa during the launch of the annual report of the Africa Progress Panel.

But he said the downturn also provided an opportunity to forge a new relationship whereby Africa drives its own development agenda in partnership with the world community.

The head of the South African Planning Commission, former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, welcomed the report.

"In the global economy there has to be that inter-mediation," said Manuel. "And indeed with that inter-mediation between wealth and poverty in the world you need to ensure that there are rules that are applied and you need to ensure that there is accountability."

The World Economic Forum also released its Africa Competitiveness Report which said that African competitiveness in global markets was hindered by under-developed infrastructure, healthcare, education and financial institutions.

The Forum continues with discussions on improving the investment climate in African countries, adapting training for the unemployed to changing job markets and diversifying the exploitation of natural resources in order to ease cyclical downswings.