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Big ideas at the World Economic Forum, Cape Town

If this morning’s session had moments that reminded me of the hyper-optimism of TED, a session this afternoon on risk on the African continent had a slightly different tone. Many of these worries dealt with investment risk, and the danger of climate change. But the most interesting to me came from my colleage Zohra Dawood, who heads the Open Society Foundations in South Africa and in Indonesia. She’s worried about the return of some 1960s rhetoric: “The time to stop the pan-African sloganeering is now.” Talk of a pan-African currency, tight political union across the content is “pie in the sky”.

THe return of Nkrumahism doesn’t appear that threatening, on its surface, but Zohra suggests two reasons why it’s worth looking closely at. There’s a huge amount of spending on pan-African institutions like the AU and NEPAD (the New Economic Partnership for African Development.) But the institutions that actually change the continent, she argues, are individual soverign governments. The other result of this pan-Africanism is a sense of solidarity that’s not always helpful – it prevents people from criticizing rigged elections in Nigeria, or effectively putting pressure on Zimbabwe. Interesting – I wonder if there’s a way to capture some of the pan-African enthusiasm expressed last week at TED Global without tripping over the very real problems Zohra identifies.

This evening’s plenary puts some of the continent’s big thinkers on the stage, including Thabo Mbeki and Abdulaye Wade. I’m unfortunately going to miss their speeches, due to a previous commitment, but I caught Professor Klaus Schwwab’s (the founder of the World Economic Forum) analysis of the state of the world before the Presidents spoke. He offers five factors he sees changing and shaping the world:

– A move to a multipolar world – 40% of GDP and exports are coming from developing countries. More than 2/3rds of foreign aid reserves are held by developing nations. We talk about the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – but we should also talk about South Africa, turning the acronym into BRICS. The G8, he argues, does not correspond to real power in the world – the G20, which will meet in South Africa this year – is much more in line with new global power structures.

– A move from the concept of “globality” to the concept of “interconnectivity”. We can see this through a “web of regional and binational agreements supplementing the established multinational system.”

– A global to increase competitiveness, raising the bar to be a business-friendly environment anywhere in the world.

– Stakeholder partnerships like the Global Health Initiative, which brings together civil society, companies and government to fight TB, AIDS and other diseases. He points to an emerging partnership for a “green revolution in Africa”, involving Kofi Annan

– The emergence of “new champions”, not just the young leaders that WEF invites to their meetings (I’m here through this program), but new companies from the developing world that compete on a global stage. Schwab predicts that the Fortune 1000 will look very different in ten years, with many more developing world companies on the list.

2 thoughts on “Big ideas at the World Economic Forum, Cape Town”

  1. I’ve heard that NEPAD is facilitating the development of infrastructure e.g. a cross-border highway across West Africa, so I was hopeful that they were helping …

    That said, there do seem to be some African governments that have got their acts together, including Ghana, Namibia, Botswana, Mali … (you would know better than me!)

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