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The first plenary session of World Economic Forum on Africa, taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from the 9th – 11, 2012, has held a discussion on issues related to fostering political stability, strengthening business environments and advancing regional integration.

But talking high about the prospects of accelerating economic growth comes to a futile end without ensuring quality education throughout the continent, according to Vikas Pota, Global Head of Corporate Affairs, GEMS Education and Chief Executive, Varkey GEMS Foundation.

In an exclusive interview with Addis Standard, Mr. Pota  expressed his pessimism that ensuring a sustainable growth in Africa needs not only a growing middle class, which, according to conservative estimates, currently stands at 300 million and may double in less than a decade to come, but also a growing number of Africans attaining quality education throughout the continent.

Heavy weights

The session was opened by Klaus Schwab, Founder and executive Chairman of World Economic Forum and was attended by prominent panelists among others Kofi Annan, Chairman, Africa Progress Panel (APP) and Co-chair of the WEF on Africa, Gao Ziqing, President and Vice-chairman, China investment cooperation (CIC),  Bekele Geleta ,  Secretary General, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Donald Kaberuka, President, African Development Bank  (AfDB), and Doug McMillon, President and Chief  Executive Officer, Wal-Mart International.

According to WEF, “in eight of the past 10 years, Africa’s “lion” economies have grown faster than East Asia’s Tigers.” The panelists were asked to present their takes on what are “the priorities for the continent to emerge as a new global growth pole?”

Explaining the continent’s homework if it’s to see economic growth and prosperity and become the powerhouse of the global economic growth, as is increasingly anticipated, Mr. Kaberuka says four things need to happen first:  Africa must manage external shocks effectively, and manage its natural resources; the continent must improve its infrastructure and ensure policy mixes benefit the majority.

Good governance and leadership

Second (L) Donald Kaberuka, Kofi Annan, Monhla Hlahla, Chairperson, Industrial Development Cooperation of South Africa (IDC), Gao Xiqing, Doug McMillon and Bekele Geleta

 

Ensuring good governance and leadership, having a strong role by the civil society, and addressing the issues of inequality are amongst the top priorities African states need to focus on to sustain a stable economic growth, according Kofi Annan. “Senegal gave us a good example”, he says. There are many lessons to be learnt from recent revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East, where Tunisia was economically thriving but absence of the rule of law and respect for human rights drove thousands of young Tunisians into the streets.

Mr. Annan further stated his concern that in most African countries public private policy debates were becoming a rarity. As a result, he said, there were no consensuses, which are forcing countries to “start afresh” whenever there is a change of government. “With each change of government we are starting afresh because we do not have that consensus…We need to discuss, so we don’t need to start afresh,” he says.

Development not growth

Development should not be confused with growth, according to Gao Ziqing, who urged African countries to pay enough attention to the distribution of not only wealth but also opportunities in order to ensure a lasting economic growth throughout the continent.  Mr. Ziqing brought to the attention of the audience one of his “favorite” say from Chairman Mao, in which Mao urged his fellow countrymen to consider China as one clean sheet of paper where the people of China should write a clean history and “not just smash” it with stories of growth only.

Missing link

According to Mr. Pota, however, the attention given to education at the ongoing World Economic Forum was unsatisfactory.  “I have seen that the Ethiopian minister for education is in attendance but we need more education ministers from the continent” he says, adding all the optimism about seven of the 10 fastest growing economies being in Africa and the continent being able to feed the world in few years yields no result if countries were not ready to face the issue of quality education, which right now is the missing link.

Ed’s note: our exclusive interview with Mr. Pota will be published in the next print edition of Addis Standard.

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