Davos - The global economic crisis and major advances in technology should be tackled head-on by a cohesive African response, driven by the African Union, says President Jacob Zuma.
Zuma intends using the 26th AU Summit to strongly lobby for a self-reliant continent unshackled from its colonialist links.
The summit opened in Addis Ababa on Wednesday and Zuma, currently in Davos to attend the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, was due to attend next week.
“I will be presenting this to the AU next week,” Zuma told a gathering of cabinet ministers and business people hosted by Proudly South Africa in the Kirschner Library in Davos on Wednesday.
“The AU has gravitated towards looking at the interests of the continent collectively, which was not the case 20 years ago, (due to) pressure from colonialists.”
He pointed out that infrastructure was crucial in connecting the different economic power blocs in Africa of which there were five.
“Three have signed agreements while discussions with the other two are ongoing.”
He said this pointed to a continent growing ever more aware of the importance of especially, economic co-operation, given the turmoil in the global economy.
“We need an integrated approach to look at the African economy. We are getting constant updates on the economies of Africa. These issues will be raised at the AU.”
With regards to the WEF theme - the Fourth Industrial Revolution - Zuma questioned if any real solutions had come out of last year’s gathering.
He questioned if constructs like the World Economic (WEF) Forum held any real quantifiable value for the continent.
“We had a theme last year on the growing gap between rich and poor. Twelve months later and now we are doing something else. Why are we not talking and dealing with this widening gap and the inequality that exists?”
WEF estimates that by 2020, “the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have brought us advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology and genomics”.
Zuma and other African leaders have questioned how African countries can use this technological paradigm shift to be part of the advancement as opposed to settling to be mere late adopters or bystanders.
“How do we use current technology to help solve challenges. How do we shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution and influence it in our favour. What are we doing to catch up and be part of this Fourth Revolution.”
“This is the debate we need to have in Africa. We must stand alone as a continent and look at how we solve our issues.”
Zuma said Africa needed to harmonise an understanding that “we are part of this revolution”.
“(Also) it’s not like we are starting from the beginning in terms of industrialisation.”
Earlier, in his scripted speech, Zuma said South Africa had a strong showing in Davos each year. “That is because of the unity of purpose of the South African delegation. We come here very clear about what we are coming to achieve.
“We come here each year to tell the story of our beautiful country and its successes.”
This year's meeting happens in yet another difficult time in the global economic environment, he said.
“Fears of a slowdown in China are fuelling concerns about global growth prospects. Lower commodity prices have also seen prospects of economic recovery in developing countries fade. “The cloud of uncertainty has resulted in volatility in capital markets. This has also put severe strain on investments in developing economies and their currencies.
“Despite a very unfavourable economic backdrop, the South African economy has been very resilient.”
Zumba said South Africa’s participation in the forum, was underpinned by clear objectives.
“We want to raise the level of foreign investment in our country. Therefore, our message remains clear. South Africa is open for business.”
Some of the business delegates told Zuma that confidence was key if South Africa was to encourage investment and that we should celebrate what has proven to be effective economic drivers.
In a report on Africa’s infrastructural growth, Nepad (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) pointed out that because the infrastructure deficit in Africa penalised growth and development of the continent, in July 2010, African leaders launched a new programme for infrastructure development in Africa (PIDA).
Led by the African Union, New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) and African Development Bank (ADB), the initiative has a budget of several billion dollars.
The overall goal of PIDA is to promote socio-economic development and poverty reduction in Africa through improved access to integrated regional and continental infrastructure networks and services.