President Goodluck Jonathan has joined other political and business leaders at the ongoing World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland to declare that with the different modern policies being embraced by its leaders, Africa would indeed become a world super-power by 2050.
He was one of the speakers at the session tagged ‘Africa’s Next Billion’ which drew speakers from different African countries, from the business sector, civil society and government, including the Ghanaian President, John Dramani Mahama.
President Jonathan stated that the relative political stability in many African countries had given a new sense of hope that the continent was on the right path and foreigners were more welcome than ever to be part of its economic growth and development.
One of the private sector speakers, the Founder and CEO of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, noted that majority of the potential foreign investors base their knowledge of Africa on what is published in newspapers but they fail to realise that no government would be against business.
He noted that irrespective of the political situations in Africa, there would always be a place for business activities to thrive. “You cannot make a mistake by investing in Africa,” he said.
Dangote said that the risk in Africa was a perceived one but unfortunately as Africans “we are not good at telling our own story.”
The Group CEO, Old Mutual, UK, Julian Roberts, while supporting Dangote’s views stated that his company’s notable presence in Africa was because they were aware that the continent would be successful in next few decades.
He noted that 60% of the world’s arable land is in Africa and that agriculture remained one of the best sectors thorugh which Africa could create wealth. He also cited the increasing number of mobile technology users as proof that the time was right for investors to look towards doing business on the continent.
He, however, added that there was huge work to be done in creating enabling platform for people to invest, as the projected successes could not happen without proper collaboration between the public and private sector
The Executive Director of Oxfam International, Winnie Byanyima, said that while Africa could justifiably lay claim to opportunities for more economic growth, the wealth was not spreading to the majority. She decried the level of income inequality on the continent and indeed globally.
The Human Rights Advocate cited statistics, saying that 85 of the world’s wealthiest people own the same amount of wealth as half of the world’s population, a proof that things were not right. She also referred to the situation as a concentration of wealth and power that locked out the majority.
Making a case for the young people, Tanzanian Fashion Designer and Creative Director of Eskado Bird, Doreen E. Noni, said that young people were not feeling empowered. Using her country as an example, she said: “We aren’t trained from young age to have entrepreneurial spirit”. Therefore, young Africans need a change in their mind-set.
Reacting to Byanyima’s views on financial inequality, Ghanian President, John Dramani Mahama, explained that the Structural Adjustment Programmes embraced by African countries in the 1970s and 80s created a new set of poor people, as the policies driving the economy back then led to the importation of items that the continent had comparative advantage to produce.
He was however confident that things were changing, as farmers are being empowered and local production is enjoying a renewed support from many African governments.
He called on African leaders to create space for the private sector to do business, encouraging governments to ‘hands-off business’.
President Mahama noted that the power sector was a key area for the private sector to take over as Ghana’s approaches and policies which included giving tax breaks to investors were responsible for the development of its power sector.
President Jonathan added that by laws of Nigeria in the past, the private sector and state governments were not allowed to generate power, except the Federal Government, a situation that created problems and made his administration embrace privatization.
He noted that since the recent privatization, the number of hour Nigerians enjoy power supply had increased and that his administration was working hard to ensure that the economy would be driven by the private sector with the government only having to create policies to enable them succeed.
Travel issues across the continent was also mentioned as one of the major challenges of economic growth in Africa with Aliko Dangote complaining that as a Nigerian he would require a visa to visit over 30 Africa countries, a development that showed that an American had better access to more African countries than him.
He said that by the year 2050, there should be a United Africa and an African Economic Community.
He advised that government needed policies to ensure that Africa would not just be supplying raw materials to the rest of the world.
“Factories should be up within the continent and labour is employed within the host countries.
On the challenges faced by many Africans in the area of accessibility to other African countries, President Mahama, said that efforts made by African countries in merging their border posts were not enough, as those borders need to be taken down totally to allow free movement of trade activities.
He said that he was was not pleased with the fact that Africans could only access 11% of the whole of the continent.
Mr Julian Roberts stated that government needed to ensure that by the year 2015, 80% of African countries are easily accessible by all Africans.
President Jonathan however brought a different angle to the challenge. Although he agreed that immigration policies were indeed a challenge, he said that the major problem was the bad state of transportation infrastructure in many African countries.
He decried a situation whereby businesses owners who want to move goods into other African countries have to go through European countries to achieve such an important part of their business.
He called on African governments to improve their transportation infrastructure with better airline services and the development of their railway systems particularly.
Billionaire, Aliko Dangote also gave some tips on entrepreneurship to help African youths embrace businesses. Although he admitted that the challenges for young businesses and SMEs on the continent were indeed enormous, with access to funds being a major one.
The Ghanaian President also called for more funding for social security in Africa. This was in response to questions of insecurity raised by a Nigerian participant at the forum, Ebuka Uchendu.
Mr Uchendu claimed that majority of the problems of insecurity in his home country were not caused by Nigerians and demanded to know what the two presidents had to say about the state of insecurity in Africa.
Jonathan admitted that Boko Haram was indeed a major problem in his country. He however noted that the activities of insurgents actually started in Abuja with the bombing of the UN building at the Federal Capital Territory, but his government had been able to push it into the border regions between Nigeria and Cameroon.
He said that the major need was for concrete collaboration to be established with other countries towards controlling the insurgents.
In reaction to Host, Bronwyn Nielsen’s statement that corruption was responsible for Nigeria’s enormous daily loss of volumes of its crude oil, Jonathan claimed that the view was another unfortunate misconception about Nigeria as the rest of the world was usually quick to blame every African issue on corruption.
He said that community agitation by youths from the oil producing Niger-Delta region of the country, who feel they are not getting enough benefits from their oil are mostly responsible for the problem with pipeline vandalism among their many activities.
Another member of the audience, Jim Ovia, spoke on other Intra-African issues. He complained that mistrust and Xenophobia was also a major factor working against trade in Africa. He wondered why, as a Nigerian, he would be mandated to present a Yellow fever Vaccination to gain entry into another African country, when the UK and other countries would not make same demands.