By Ma Shukun
ADDIS ABABA, May 8 (Xinhua) — Africa is in increased need of transformation both in its economic growth model and its relationship with the rest of the world as the lion economy is seeking to rise to the next growth pole for the global economy, said the head of Africa of the World Economic Forum (WEF).
“Africa is emerging as a major growth opportunity,” Elsie Kanza of the World Economic Forum told Xinhua in an exclusive interview, days ahead of the World Economic Forum on Africa to be held from Wednesday to Friday in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.
“The key change is from Africa being dependent on and recipient of support to being a real partner in development,” she said.
Powered by exports of raw materials such as oil and gas to the rest of the world, Africa’s economy has been booming. Even though not free from fallout of the global economic turmoil, its economy bounced back fast, in comparison with the developed nations that are still grappling for recovery.
In the last decade, six out of 10 fastest growing economies were from Africa, and the number is expected to rise to seven in the five years to 2015, according to a projection by the International Monetary Fund.
The World Bank forecast the growth rate of gross domestic product for the sub-Saharan Africa to be 5.3 percent for 2012 and 5.6 percent for 2013, higher than the 4.9 percent for 2011. The IMF put its estimated growth rate for the region at 5.5 percent for 2012.
“Right now we are seeing a stagnation of global economy, but the outlook for Africa is still very high,” Kanza said, adding the growth spurt over the past decade is expected to continue.Selling materials to feed the growth of the rest of the world, however, also put Africa in a risky position that makes it vulnerable to commodity price volatilities.
“Changes need to be made to improve the quality of that growth to ensure that it’s sustainable and to enhance the ability to include more people in that growth,” she said.
“There’s an increased need to diversify economic drivers across the continent to ensure that the growth is sustainable,” she said, urging African nations to look at the barriers in the way to diversify investments in other areas apart from mining, oil and gas.
“Africa has the source of many drivers of economic growth,” she said, citing its abundance of natural resources, a large land mass, and a growing youthful population which means an increase in labor force and consumption market.
She encouraged expanded investment into sectors such as retail, telecommunication, financial services and agriculture. Africa’s promising economic prospect makes it as an attractive investment opportunity, she said.
“The leaders in Africa should take advantage of this opportunity and leverage it to bring about real change so that it is not only the world benefiting from Africa’s natural resources and ingredients for success but ensuring that Africa also benefits from this growth opportunity,” she said.
For growth to be sustainable, the relationship between Africa and the rest of the world needs to change as it has been more one sided with emphasis on development and a lot less emphasis on investment, she said, calling for win-win relationship, saying regional leaders are moving forward to be in a position to contribute.
Within the continent of more than 1 billion people, the head urged regional integrity to unleash its growth potential.
“Africa’s market potential individually is quite small. We have quite a few small economies so we have to work collectively now instead of competing with each other with respect to commodities,” she said. By doing so, African nations can join forces to form a huge market, she added.
Talking about the biggest challenge facing Africa, Kanza said the agricultural sector needs change. “About 50 years ago Africa was a net exporter of food and now is a net importer of food, and is fast on track to have a large population of people in the world in the next 50 years or so.
“This is a key challenge because agriculture employs majority of Africans directly or indirectly. Productivity is currently low, and value addition is also very limited. So if we want to see real change take place in Africa then this sector needs to change,” she said.
The World Economic Forum attracts more than 700 participants from over 70 countries, more than 500 of whom are business leaders, according to the organizers. Eight African heads of state or government among 90 public figures will take part in the forum, including top leaders from Nigeria, Gabon, Djibouti, Rwanda and Tanzania.