Nicola Mawson. Picture: Matthews Baloyi

It’s hardly surprising – given our lacklustre economic growth that really benefits no-one and is hardly inclusive – that some people are anti the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Durbs.

WEF Africa 2017, which ends on Friday, has seen more than 1 000 important leaders gather at the Durban International Convention Centre to hash out topics around the theme of “Achieving Inclusive Growth through Responsive and Responsible Leadership”.

And therein lies the rub – inclusive growth.

Frankly, we have to do something to jump start the economy.

South Africa’s gross domestic product grew a measly 0.3 percent last year, and – with a bit of luck – will grow by about a percent this year.

Hardly, as I’ve noted before, the sort of growth that’s inspiring and will create jobs.

Which is maybe why so much of the talk coming out of WEF Africa this year is around Africans working together – to the benefit of all Africans.

Africa, as a whole, is expected to grow at less than 5 percent this year – less than what it gained over the previous decade. Yes, there will be pockets of growth, but the gains will be nothing like the growth that made the continent look like the Promised Land for expansion.

Africa’s growth is coming off because of a recent slump in commodity prices, and the economic slowdown in China. While these two external factors have weighed on growth – and both are picking up – Africa also needs to look towards herself for growth.

Let’s face it, we don’t trade nearly enough with our neighbours.

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba pointed out just before the start of WEF that intra-African trade is shockingly low at about 11 percent, while intra-Asian and North American trade is both at 40 percent.

The problem is, while Africa has the resources, it doesn’t have the infrastructure. It is in dire need of roads, and those are expensive to build. Too many countries don’t have ports, which means relying on shoddy roads to truck vast amounts of products many many thousands of kilometres to get to a port.

(That’s why Transnet is so chuffed with itself, and sees itself as an access point for Africa to trade with the rest of the world.)

In addition, about 60 percent of Africans still don’t have electricity.

Lack of investment

What all of this speaks to is a serious lack of investment. Granted, much of the blame lies in colonialism, but blaming history doesn’t solve our immediate issues.

We need to invest, and we need to do so smartly, and in collaboration – as Gigaba said. I’ll add a rider to that – we need to invest as a matter of extreme urgency.

And we need to invest not just in infrastructure, but education and technology also, because the fourth industrial revolution is coming, at a rate of knots.

I don’t know where we’ll get the money, but if we look at collaborative investment – a model can be developed.

Because then we can take advantage of all we have to sell the world and our neighbours. Our smarts, our inventions, our resources, our skills… the list is almost endless.

And we need to get a move on, because the theory of trickle down economy is not only broken, it’s leaking.

The problem with that theory is that the rich get richer, but generally don’t invest in anything that will help the poor. (Unless they are big on philanthropy, and then tend to shout to the world about their good deeds.) Instead, they invest in things that will make them richer.

This is among the reasons, I suspect, is why civil society took to the streets as WEF started. Although concerned about climate change, they also called for people to be put ahead of profits.

If we want inclusive growth that benefits all, we need to collectively invest so that all Africans can benefit.

* Nicola Mawson is the online editor of Business Report. Follow her on Twitter @NicolaMawson or Business Report @busrep.

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