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Thoughts from World Economic Forum: Africa 2019

I had the privilege last week to attend my third WEF Africa event, held in Cape Town from September 4th to 6th. It was a rare opportunity to leave my relatively insulated daily routine and have the chance to think and reflect. Here are some observations:

An African Regeneration is well underway, characterized by a more clear and honed awareness of our own abilities and shortcomings at both an individual and collective level. The democratisation of data has helped Africans to leapfrog their own development. Gone are the days where a young African person was disadvantaged by having limited access to the rest of the world. The reliance on formal education is lessening, and at the same time formal, high quality education itself is becoming more accessible. During a panel discussion Ms Arunma Oteh, Academic Scholar, University of Oxford, and former World Bank Treasurer, said: “When you look at how easy it is for young people to adopt technology, I consider [technology] as THE opportunity [for Africa] because more than 50% of Africans are younger than 25 years."  Excuses of "I never had the opportunity" are no longer valid.  African youth are determined to build their own future regardless.

At the same time, trust in legacy institutions is declining and Africans are demanding more transparency. There is disillusionment with governments, traditional leaders and corporations, all of which are being blamed for making near sighted and self-serving decisions with dire consequences for the broader society. The belief that "the elders know best and will provide" is disappearing and the younger generations are not afraid to challenge the status quo. A more civically active society is surfacing, portrayed by the sentiment of Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, and Peter Kamalingin, Pan-Africa program director, Oxfam International in their article, Africa can rise – if our leaders end extreme inequality, “African political and business leaders must feel the heat about the choices they are making. They can stay on the path of ever-spiralling inequality and poverty. Or they can start building another path, to a more prosperous, equal Africa built for the many and not just for the few. Surely, there is no other way.”

As I looked around me at the Forum, studying the speakers, participants and the protesters outside, I was struck by the fact that all of them exude an energy: insatiable curiosity and a determination that is palpable. As a continent we are in flux, but WEF Africa again confirmed to me that our people still remain our greatest asset.

Heloise Nel is a consultant in Egon Zehnder’s Johannesburg office.

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