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World Economic Forum on Africa

6 May 2011

The World Economic Forum in Africa in the first week of May was a tale with two narratives, which are beginning to meet in the middle. On one hand, particularly from African business people, was a strong message that they are fed up with the perception of Africa as a continent of problems. Rather, they emphasised the tremendous economic growth the continent has experienced over the last decade and the even greater opportunities to come. I spoke at the launch the report 'New Africa' by Business Action for Africa. It includes perspectives from leading business people and academics on why Africa should be seen not just as a resource base for the rest of the world, but also a set of rapidly growing consumer markets which offer innovative products and a growing set of technology pioneers. This theme was also evident during a fascinating 'south-south' televised debate, including government representatives from South Africa, China, and India as well as the World Bank, Goldman Sachs and leading academics. The level of economic and political confidence the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries have is only growing and bolstered by their increasingly strong 'south-south' relationships.
On the other hand, I was privileged to meet with Archbishop Desmond Tutu during a discussion on the role of young people in making a difference in Africa, and in his talk he emphasised in a compelling way the risk of the very poor being excluded from the African growth opportunity. Throughout the week, though, there were signs that this challenge is being taken seriously. One of the events SABMiller took part in was a discussion around the new Oxfam poverty footprint report (PDF 3.68Mb) on SABMiller's Coca Cola bottling operations in Zambia and El Salvador. This research looked at how the whole soft drinks value chain affects human rights, gender diversity, economic opportunity and environmental resources - both the positives and the challenges. Most people in the audience wanted to know the 'so what?' - what will SABMiller do differently as a result of the research? Chibamba Kanyama, the Corporate Affairs Director for Zambia Breweries, our local subsidiary, shared the action plans they have in place as a result of the research: to develop a national producer responsibility organisation to deal with packaging waste;, a business linkages programme with small and medium size enterprises which Zambian Breweries has committed to with the Zambian Development Agency; and plans to work with independent truck drivers to improve their working hours as they distribute the products around the country.
The Forum also saw very significant progress on two programmes we have been working on in recent years with WEF. The first was the launch by Water and Environment Minister Molewa of South Africa of a new public private partnership on water resources. The Minister committed to explore this opportunity at Davos this year and it is exciting how quickly this has become a firm commitment to a widespread collaboration with the private sector to improve water management. The second was the New Vision for Agriculture project, and in particular the progress we have seen in developing the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania, which again was championed personally by President Kikwete at the Forum. SABMiller is working as part of this partnership to grow the local barley supply industry in Tanzania for beers such as Safari and Kilimanjiro.
Africa is on the up - as our CEO Graham Mackay says 'if there was more of Africa we would invest in it' - but as that growth occurs we must make sure that it is inclusive of some of the poorest groups in the continent. Look elsewhere on our website to see how we integrate programmes on HIV/Aids, subsistence farmers and water resources to our day to day business operations across Africa to ensure that we are tackling the issues which are critical for the communities we are a part of.


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