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'Africa Open to Business'

Published date:
Monday, 17 July 2006
Source: (South Africa)

Stressing gains in financial stability and democratisation, African heads of state meeting with hundreds of foreign business leaders called on Monday for stepped-up investment in the continent.

Nigerian foreign minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said: "Africa is changing. Both economic and political landscapes are improving.

"Economic fundamentals in most countries are looking good and are improving each year," she told the Leon H Sullivan Summit, the seventh since 1991.

Themed "Africa: A Continent of Opportunities - Building Partnerships for Success," the gathering comes on the heels of the Group of Eight (G8) major industrialised countries' summit in St Petersburg, Russia, where leaders pledged to help build a peaceful and democratic Africa but disappointed aid agencies by announcing no big initiatives or new relief.

Hasten continent's development

Okonjo-Iweala advocated massive foreign and African investments in Africa to hasten the continent's economic and social development.

Progress has been made, she stressed, in ending conflicts, while many countries have become electoral democracies in recent years.

"The time is therefore opportune for all of us to join hands in spurring Africa's progress. Africa is open for business.

"The opportunities are there for you to tap," she said.

Annual real gross domestic product growth in Africa as a whole "has averaged about 5.2% since 2003, compared with the sluggish growth of about 2.6% for the period 1988-2000".

Current estimates

Inflation has averaged around 10.6% in Africa since 2000, compared with around 29% between 1988 and 1997.

According to current estimates, the figure for this year will be 9.1% and 7.3% next year, she added.

Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank vice-president, noted that sub-Saharan Africa's external debt is set to decline from 74.8% of GDP to about 44.4% in 2006, not including South Africa and Nigeria.

Funds in the Diaspora and on the continent are estimated at about $600bn, "but we have not been successful in fully harnessing these funds and channelling them into productive investments".

African Union Commission deputy chairperson Patrick Mazimhaka called for action to enhance economic transformation including expanding markets, harmonising banking, fiscal and economic policies and investing in human capital.

After the plenary session, delegates broke into groups to discuss empowering African entrepreneurs, repatriation of capital from overseas, assessment of African markets and strengthening of US-Africa relations.

Focus attention and resources on Africa

The four-day Sullivan summit brings together world political and business leaders, delegates representing national and international civil and multilateral organisations, and members of academic institutions to focus attention and resources on Africa's economic and social development.

Most of the 15 African heads of state and government who have confirmed their participation in the summit are already in Abuja, representing Liberia, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Sao Tome and Principe, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Gambia.

Also attending are the prime ministers of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Sullivan foundation chief executive officer Hope Masters said the organisation has helped bring about $60bn in debt relief to some African countries.

The foundation had also contributed $20m worth of books and 20 000 irrigation wells.

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