The annual World Economic Forum on Africa opened Wednesday with
acknowledgments that mismanagement, lack of democracy and reliance on
handouts are partly to blame for the continent's woes.
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said Africa should stop using its
colonial past as an excuse and accept that "mediocrity" of leadership
kept it underdeveloped while Asian countries forged ahead.
Odinga used the opening ceremony to criticize Africa's inaction
regarding Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's conduct in the country's
elections, the first round of which were held March 29.
"It is unfortunate that in an African country elections can be held
and no results announced for more than one month, and African leaders
are silent about it," said Odinga, who himself was appointed after a
power-sharing agreement to end Kenya's postelection bloodshed.
"It would not happen in Europe. Let us say what we mean and mean what we say when we talk about African development."
More than 800 business and political leaders from 50 countries are
attending the conference, which runs through Friday and is supposed to
focus on the theme of "Capitalizing on Opportunity." In a report before
the meeting, the World Economic Forum said it should be possible for
Africa - which is benefiting from high raw material prices - to sustain
its 5 percent growth despite risks from food and political insecurity.
Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika said Africa was the world's
richest continent in terms of natural resources and needed to change
its mind-set to achieve its full potential.
"We have huge agricultural land and huge water resources and
virtually every crop can grow on this continent and we are unable to
feed ourselves," he said. "Can't we turn things around? Yes, we can,"
Malawi, he said, had the potential to become a major rice producer soon.
Mutharika said in the 25 years after independence from Britain,
Malawi, an impoverished southern African nation, saw itself as
dependent on food handouts, and its president performed an annual
begging ritual. But he said when he was elected in 2004 he told the
country's farmers they were capable of growing the food themselves and,
since then, Malawi has had surpluses.
"If Malawi can do it, surely the rest of Africa can," he said.
Mutharika said another challenge facing the continent was that
"Africans have not learned to share power," and cling instead to the
principal of "winner takes all."
President Thabo Mbeki said that generally the continent was moving
in the right direction. But he warned that a "belt of instability"
across the Sahel stretching from Mauritania in the West to Sudan in the
east had negative repercussions for the rest of the continent.
Ghana's President John Kuofor said the biggest mistake was not allowing free rein to the private sector.
"If we have the leadership, Africa will catch up, because we have the resources," he said.