WEF Africa 2017 - Achieving Inclusive Growth, May 2017

WEF Africa 2017 - Achieving Inclusive Growth

In partnership with the Government of the Republic of South Africa, the World Economic Forum on Africa ("WEF Africa") was held in Durban, South Africa, on 3-5 May 2017. The meeting convened regional and global leaders from business, government and civil society to "explore solutions to create economic opportunities for all".

Winnie Byanyima was appointed to be a Co-Chair for WEF Africa 2017. More information about the Meeting can be found here. Ahead of WEF Africa, Oxfam released a new report titled ‘Starting with People,’  which challenged African leaders to champion new economic models that are ‘fit for the future’. An article about the report can be found here

On Wednesday 3 May Winnie spoke at a session titled "Achieving Inclusive Growth" and was joined by Siyabonga Gama (Group Chief Executive Officer, Transnet, South Africa), Frédéric Lemoine (Chairman of the Executive Board, Wendel, France), Rich Lesser (Global Chief Executive Officer and President, Boston Consulting Group) and Ulrich Spiesshofer (President and Chief Executive Officer, ABB, Switzerland). Her remarks can be found below. This session was developed in partnership with CNBC Africa.


I feel that I am often a pessimist on these panels. Inequality, famine, bad governance. I am sure you’ve heard me say these things.  

I think there is something about being on my home continent that brings that out in me too. I feel I can criticise Africa – its leaders, its economies – because I know in my heart that my commitment to Africa and expectations for this continent are boundless.

But sometimes I have to remember to say that out loud too.

So let me say what gives me hope, and therefore what I think it is imperative to protect in the next year: It is the capacity for ordinary African people to solve many of their own problems if they are supported to do so.

To the problem of famine and displacement, it is not all about the global aid donors. Local people are responding. In North East Nigeria, where millions are suffering famine like conditions, I was told of host communities that would literally take the clothes from their own backs to give to people arriving who were in need. 

To the problem of food security and the need to improve agriculture, it is not all about the need for fancy technology and GM crops. We should respect the cutting edge indigenous knowledge around agro-ecology and other methods. 

And when it is about social entrepreneurialism and thought leadership, it is not just about us here. Debate and problem solving are taking place constantly in communities and civil society. Right here in Durban the People’s Economic Forum has brought together 500 people from communities in South Africa and further afield. Activist there are ensuring they get inclusive growth from the bottom up. When their markets are shut down in corrupt deals to build shopping malls they would never be able to shop in, they are fighting. When their farm land is appropriated, they are resisting. 

Oxfam is part of the Fight Inequality Alliance, a global civil society network working to define solutions to inequality. On the 25th May, Africa Day, we will also shortly see the launch of Africans Rising, a Pan African solidarity movement.  In their own words they are about about “calling out our leaders on their failures and building a better, more just, more peaceful and sustainable Africa.”   

Therefore if I had to choose an imperative for next year to ensure we saw more inclusive growth, I would choose the need to protect the space, funding, rights and freedoms of civil society, of women’s groups, labour organisations and youth groups.

In the moving film tribute to Ahmed Kathrada shown on Wednesday we heard his words of wisdom that “freedom can never be a gift. It has to be fought for”. Likewise, inclusivity, a fair share in the wealth of countries, has to be demanded and asserted by those who are losing out. It cannot just be in the gift of current political and economic leaders.

I am pleased therefore that the World Economic Forum has placed closing civil society space on its list of major global risks. I was also pleased to address a session yesterday on how businesses can be active in ensuring these rights are upheld. I hope that the African leaders present today hear this plea.

There may be an era of disruption, but the answer is not to repress.

Thank you.