That was an occasion to “awaken” the potential of Africa as well as to utilise development opportunities to build a brighter future for the “Dark Continent”.
Under the theme “Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, WEF Africa 2019 focused on discussing the areas of innovation, sustainable development, digitalisation and state management. The regional leaders also talked about action plans to make the most of the benefits brought about by e-commerce to the economic development process in the continent. These are the “hot” issues that Africa needs to accelerate in the process of international economic integration, especially as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) with 54 member countries as signatories takes effect. Known as the largest FTA since the World Trade Organisation (WTO) came into existence, the AfCFTA is considered a new driving force for continental integration, helping to clear trade flows and attract investment into Africa. Many African countries have set the goal of striving to soon become emerging economies with a high level of industrialisation, through the policy of establishing economic sectors with many incentives for foreign investors.
During the discussion session “Africa: Rising Continent in a Fractured World”, President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa affirmed that Africa needs to strengthen governance and institutions, categorically deal with rampant corruption and poor management aiming to reposition the “Dark Continent” as an attractive location for investors. The leader of the host country also emphasised the need for Africa to create favourable conditions for businesses aiming to deliver the message that companies can go to any countries throughout the continent without being troubled by bureaucracy. Africa is being limited in terms of infrastructure, a field that requires huge resources, so the African leaders said the smart cooperation between many different partners can help the “Dark Continent” to address the challenge.
As a continent endowed with abundant mineral resources, Africa has long been considered just a destination for mining. The “Dark Continent” realised that it is time to diversify their economies, shift away from an economy primarily based on resource exploitation, and further liberate the growth sectors through industrialisation and production.
In the flow of the new era, Industry 4.0, Africa also wishes to take advantage of the scientific and technological achievements to boost trade. In cooperation with the International Trade Centre (ITC), a multilateral economic organisation operating alongside the WTO and the United Nations, African leaders and international trade organisations discussed the provision of support for startups in the field of e-commerce across the continent, in an effort to help these companies overcome development barriers, including weak IT infrastructure, cyber-security issues and the limited connectivity in the region. According to ITC Executive Director Arancha Gonzalez, the future of world trade will be based on a digital platform in which e-commerce plays the most important role. E-commerce will help transform the way African businesses operate from production to distribution. The latest research by the US-based Boston Consulting Group stated that the effective application of e-commerce will work to create about three million additional jobs in Africa by 2025.
With the AfCFTA making its debut and taking effect in May, the door to trade exchange between African countries has been opened. The removal of tariff barriers is expected to increase Africa’s share of intra-regional trade to 60% within the next three years. At the WEF Africa 2019, South African Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said the US-China trade war is currently seen as the biggest threat to the world’s economic growth, especially to the emerging economies in Africa, in the fields of regulating the consumer goods market and the financial market. The official expressed his hopes that the AfCFTA will help African nations to reduce negative impacts from the trade war as well as to promote the development potential of the continent.
In the face of a series of common and private challenges from international and regional factors, Africa is striving to overcome difficulties and rise in development. Despite its ambitious development agendas, Africa is proving to be increasingly confident in tapping into the advantages of a resource-rich continent. The continent of about 1.3 billion people is facing many development opportunities as countries are focusing more on connectivity, technology and innovation aiming to facilitate economic transformation, create jobs, improve productivity and increase competitiveness.