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Published On: Tue, May 6th, 2014

As Nigeria hosts the world for WEF

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World Economic ForumBy Evelyn Okakwu, with Agency report

As Nigeria gets set to host other parts of the continent and indeed the world in The World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa, a look into the various speeches of stake holders on the issue becomes pertinent.

According to Elsie Kanza Director, Head of Africa, at the World Economic Forum “No other sector of the economy comes close to agriculture when it comes to providing jobs for Africans. And yet smallholder farmers face a perennial struggle to make ends meet. In 2011 the Forum, along with the African Union and NEPAD Agency, launchedGrow Africa to make faster progress towards improving their livelihoods”.

It is hoped that the forum will indeed look into the agricultural problems of Nigeria, as in that of the continent.

Speaking further he adds that “Greater collaboration is helping Africa grow through businesses acting responsibly and government investing effectively. But it is not all about growth. This year, the theme of our meeting is Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs because we want to make it clear that no economy can call itself successful just through growth alone. Too often in the past, growth in Africa has been uneven, enjoyed by too few and neglecting too many. Central to our discussion will be exploring ways to address this. How can Africans acquire the skills to be compete in the global economy, or start businesses of their own? How can we improve access to quality healthcare for the many and not the few? How can we build societies that are respectful of minorities and listen to the voice of youth?

How can we plan our cities better, travel more freely across borders, or ensure clean water for everyone?

This is what we will be aiming for in Abuja this week. It’s a big task, and one that will not be achieved overnight, but as I’m often reminded, there will be a lot of people that can talk. And act. But this is not a conversation for the thousand people in the meeting; it is a conversation for the whole of Africa”

Well stated, but all of this beautiful event will hold hear in Nigeria. The World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa is an annual event which began two decades ago.

Nigeria won the right to host the WEF on Africa at the WEF annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in January, making it the first West African country to host the forum.

The WEF on Africa, which will be held in Abuja from May 7 to May 9, has “Forging Inclusive Growth; Creating Jobs’’ as its theme.

Experts are of the opinion that the theme of the forum is quite apt, considering the growing challenges of unemployment and poverty facing the region.

Ms Elsie Kanza, Director, Head of Africa, WEF, said that Nigeria was a good choice for hosting the WEF on Africa because of its significant roles in African affairs.

She said that about 13 heads of state and more than 1,000 delegates had confirmed their intent to participate, adding that this would be the highest number of participants at the forum so far. They include: President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan of Nigeria and representatives from his government, other leaders that have confirmed their participation are: Mohamed Larbi Ould Khelifa, President, People’s National Assembly, Algeria; Thomas Yayi Boni, President of Benin; Li Keqiang, Premier of the People’s Republic of China; Daniel Kablan Duncan, Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire; John Dramani Mahama, President of Ghana; Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya; Kolo Christophe Laurent Roger, Prime Minister of Madagascar; Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda; Macky Sall, President of Senegal; Jakaya M. Kikwete, President of Tanzania; and Faure Gnassingbé, President of Togo.

Also, the Co-Chairs of the meeting are: Dominic Barton, Global Managing Director, McKinsey & Company, USA; Jean-François van Boxmeer, Chairman of the Executive Board and Chief Executive Officer, HEINEKEN,Netherlands; Aliko Dangote, President and Chief Executive Officer, Dangote Group, Nigeria; Bineta Diop, Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security, African Union, and President, Femmes Africa Solidarité, Switzerland; Jabu A. Mabuza, Chairman, Telkom Group, South Africa; Sunil Bharti Mittal, Founder and Chairman, Bharti Enterprises, India; and John Rice, Vice-Chairman, GE, Hong Kong SAR.

Africa has been able to record an appreciable economic development, particularly in the last 10 years, with expected accelerated growth of 4.7 per cent in 2014 and 5 per cent in 2015, according to the projection of international financial organisations.

In spite of this growth, the continent is bedevilled by high poverty and unemployment rates and this has become a major source of concern for most African leaders.

For instance, in spite of the recent assessment of Nigeria as the largest economy in Africa and the 26th in the world, with its 89.22 per cent growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2013, the country is still grappling with the twin challenges of unemployment and high poverty rate.

Although the rating is by all means some cheery news for the country’s economy, many Nigerians have yet to witness inclusive growth in pragmatic terms.

This is because the expectation of the average Nigerian includes creation of jobs, reduction of inflation, proper remuneration for workers and broad-based development, aimed at reducing high poverty and inequality rates among the citizenry.

It is, therefore, a welcome development that the WEF on Africa in Abuja, aimed at fostering all-encompassing growth, will discuss wide-ranging economic issues affecting the people.

President Goodluck Jonathan, in a media chat at the weekend, noted that WEF on Africa would enable Nigeria to attract investments in critical sectors of the economy such as power, oil and gas, manufacturing and agriculture, among others.

He said that the forum would also provide a window for Nigeria to showcase its economic potential and opportunities, adding, however, that the forum’s benefits might not be instantaneous but they would materialise within a couple of years.

Besides, the Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said that Nigeria would gain a lot of benefits from the hosting of the WEF on Africa.

“Nigeria has 70 per cent of the ECOWAS economy, 30 per cent of the economy of sub-Saharan Africa and 21 per cent of Africa’s economy; this is a substantial chunk.

“So, our hosting of the meeting is meaningful, while the focus of the meeting is in line with our efforts to ensure that we have inclusive growth in the country,’’ she said.

Okonjo-Iweala stressed that the forum would dwell on issues that would facilitate efforts to create jobs and reduce inequality in Africa.

She said that the meeting would also address plans to create skills and improve the service delivery of public workers.

The minister said that civil society groups, religious groups and private sector organisations would participate in the forum and recommend how the government could structure its policies to foster positive change in the region.

Going from the general to the specifics, Okonjo-Iweala said that the Nigerian economy would benefit a lot from various initiatives that would be introduced by the forum.

“There are specific things that will be of benefit to us as Nigeria for the forum being held here. The first is that there are several initiatives; we have the `Grow Africa Initiative’ which is for funding of agriculture in the continent.

“They have been able to raise about N7 billion investments and about half of it will be coming to Nigeria; there is the healthcare initiative designed to strengthen people’s access to healthcare services.

“A skills initiative is being launched by WEF and within that, we are going to see a new initiative of `Safe Schools’ being launched by the private sector in Nigeria.

“Aliko Dangote, Nduka Obaigbena, together with Mr. Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister and UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Education, would take charge of the session,’’ she added.

The minister explained that “safe schools initiative”, which would be geared toward the North-East political zone of the country, would be of great benefit to women and girls.

In a nutshell, Okonjo-Iweala said that Nigeria, as the largest economy in Africa, had a great role to play in efforts to expedite the economic growth of Africa.

She noted that by 2040, Africa would have a workforce that was larger than that of China.

All the same, Kanza stressed that said the major focus of the forum would be on how best to ensure inclusive growth for Africa, the region’s positive growth rate notwithstanding.

The Head of Africa Region at the WEF noted that 59 per cent of African youths were unemployed, adding, however, that private sector participation would aid efforts to proffer solutions to unemployment problems, while facilitating job creation.

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