In Davos, a keen understanding of Africa’s economic potential

Some of the world’s most influential people from business, academia, culture and politics are currently descending on the Swiss mountain town of Davos for the 2011 World Economic Forum (WEF). While for many this will be an opportunity to discuss business and economic growth while simultaneously networking at parties among the snow-capped mountains, “Davos” (as the event is affectionately called) has recently become something more: an event that can direct global focus onto some of most challenging problems the world faces.

The WEF’s official slogan states that they are “committed to improving the state of the world,” and this guides an underlying agenda. Over the last three years, this has focused on dealing with global economic slowdown. However, this year’s forum, titled “Shared norms for a new reality,” has an agenda packed with sessions examining the shift in economic power from West to East and its implications as western economies are struggling to deal with debt, austerity and low growth.

Important issues, but what about Africa?

Again, it seems that Africa has been widely overlooked on the Davos agenda. This could disappoint some who are interested in the ability of inclusive economic growth to alleviate poverty in Africa. However, while the official Davos program may have underrepresented Africa, this doesn’t mean that those attending aren’t going to be thinking — and talking — about Africa…

Recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted that growth in sub-Saharan Africa will be 1 percentage point above the global average in 2011. The IMF also recorded eight African countries in the top 20 fastest-expanding economies in 2010, and it predicts that a number of African countries would have stronger rates of economic growth than that of China in 2011. Furthermore, the growing trade and geopolitical relationship between Asia and Africa also means that the forum’s focus on the changing influence of the Asian economies in a post banking-crisis world can’t help but draw attention to Africa’s potential.

These facts and insights will interest many people who will be asking whether Africa can shift into the emerging market mainstream. For others, it will only strengthen what they already believe:

“Not investing in Africa is like missing out on Japan and Germany in the 1950s, Southeast Asia in the 1980s and emerging markets in the 1990s,” said Francis Beddington, head of research at emerging market investment house Insparo Capital.

It seems that while the African economies aren’t yet the African Lions capable of challenging the Asian Tigers, the world has noticed Africa’s huge economic growth potential. There will be many challenges to developing Africa’s potential and making their economic growth inclusive. Here at ONE, we hope there will be conversations in Davos about tackling these challenging poverty issues, but we also value the increased recognition to Africa. While Africa may not be a focus in Davos, it seems Africa is being talked about. And hopefully by the World Economic Forum in Africa in May, those not currently talking about Africa’s potential will be.

Photo courtesy of the World Economic Forum. Photo by Sebastian Derungs