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Africa is on the Upturn. The Rest of the World Can Ignore at Own Peril!

AFRICA is a continent on the rebound. Poverty is still evident, some parts are still at war, diseases remain a challenge but the world must not be fooled. The continent is a giant that is awakening.

In fact, this has been happening over the past few years but many, even the Africans themselves, have hardly been noticing.

But now things are moving at such a pace the continent is now difficult to ignore, or the world can do so at its own peril.

The World Economic Forum on Africa, a meeting of minds in government, business, civil society, the academia, media and the arts held its 22nd summit in Ethiopia last week where Africa's transformation was under the spotlight.

More than 700 delegates from 76 countries attended the summit hosted by Ethiopia, itself a country considered the third fastest growing in the world, at an average 8,1 percent Gross Domestic Product growth.

The various statistics released during the Forum from all perspectives showed that the continent is experiencing real transformation with its 2 percent share of global foreign direct investment set to grow phenomenally over the next few years now that the world's attention has shifted to this continent.

The famous Asian Tigers are fast being tamed by the aggressive "Lions of Africa" as the continent shrugs off the demeaning tag of poverty, darkness, war and disease that it has been known for, for a long time. The picture of wars, hunger and dirt is fast being replaced by that of sunshine, improved infrastructure, wealth and a better quality of life.

The continent is not yet there but there is light at the not too far end of the tunnel.

The body language, the tone of presentations and discussions at the forum told a story of a continent that has suddenly found itself and is raring go.

It certainly was about time that we changed the world's view on Africa. Often times the minute you say you are from Africa, one suddenly begins to talk about civil strife, diseases and poverty levels instead of engaging on more progressive issues such as ICT development.

But such speakers as Africa Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other prominent speakers stressed that that phase was fast disappearing and a new Africa was about to change the global complexion.

These were no mere sentiments or wishful thinking. Mr Kaberuka said the past decade had been the most progressive for Africa in the last 50 years.

The continent is faring well and is one of the fastest growing regions despite the economic crisis in the West.

In fact, Africa is expected to maintain an average 5 percent growth rate over the next decade.

Sustainable growth would have to be inclusive, with various programmes and projects targeted at the youth, women and micro and small businesses. The need to generate employment for the millions that are jobless cannot be overemphasised.

Of course, challenges such as low intra-Africa trade, corruption, poor infrastructure, political instability in some instances and other impediments to growth would have to be addressed in the process.

As I listened through and participated in some of the discussions at the World Economic Forum, my country Zimbabwe kept coming to my mind.

This country should not be left out of the renaissance and should make the most of the mileage gained by the continent.

The resurgence on the continent resonates well with what has been happening in Zimbabwe on the economic front. This country is the fastest growing in the region and its inflation is the lowest. This, coming from a hyperinflation state only three years ago, is something that has begun to catch the eye of investors and development partners.

Zimbabwe's economy, although coming from a very low base, has been on the mend.

We were discussing with colleagues over lunch yesterday, the 2007-2008 era when carrying a loaf of bread home would make news and when a petrol attendant in South Africa would easily recognise a Zimbabwean because they always said "pane petrol here?" (is there petrol here?) when to the South Africans it was obvious that a fuel station would naturally have petrol and diesel.

But that phase belongs to history and Zimbabwe will need to consolidate its gains and move the economy further up the ranks.

However, challenges such as perception on indigenisation, poor electricity supply, political disharmony in some instances and poor infrastructure presently threaten the gains that have been made to date.

The economy is expected to grow by 9,4 percent but already some schools of thought argue that the figure will need to be revised downwards.

The country has begun to interest investors with planeloads of businesspeople coming from South Africa, Asia and some parts of Europe but it is the policies we implement here that will determine whether the inquiries will amount to much.

Electricity is a key production component but the challenges at Zesa are compromising Zimbabwe's competitiveness in terms of trade and investment.

What does it take for Zesa to operate effectively? When will the electricity challenges end? Why have they persisted for this long?

Furthermore, the liquidity challenges have constricted economic activity and the challenges in this respect seem to be worsening.

What strategies do we presently have in place to tame the situation? When should we anticipate a softening of the tight liquidity crunch?

Is there a roundtable where Government, business, labour, civil society and the academia are bringing their minds together to resolve the problems confronting the economy?

Are such platforms as the Tripartite Negotiating Forum and the National Economic Consultative Forum actively engaged in finding solutions?

Is the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries holding emergency meetings to proffer solutions from a business perspective or do we wait for their next annual conference to deliberate on issues?

What is the Business Council of Zimbabwe presently seized with?

To what extend has the one-stop investment authority eliminated the cumbersome process of starting business in Zimbabwe?

Has the country been visible enough to the outside world?

These are some of the questions that need answers as Zimbabwe anticipates an improved economy where business thrive, jobs become available and where the ordinary person can afford a decent meal, healthcare and other facilities to do with their welfare.

At the World Economic Forum Zimbabwe was represented by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, Finance Minister Tendai Biti, Investment Promotion and Economic Planning Minister Tapiwa Mashakada and his permanent secretary Dr Desire Sibanda, among others.

From the business sector, I noticed Kingdom Financial Holdings founder and director Nigel Chanakira, among others.

In my interactions with them, they were upbeat about the country and felt progress would be made once a few issues as stated above were settled.

Professor Mutambara said Zimbabwe had a good story to sell and him and his team were at the Forum to keep a present on the global stage and to benefit from the ideas and thoughts exchanged at such platforms as the WEF meetings.

Let's see what the next half of the year has in store for this country.

We will collectively have a say in this country's future.

In God I Trust
The Herald

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