WEF Africa 2016: What is in it for Rwanda and Africa?

The month of May 2016 opens on a high note for Rwanda. The country is hosting the African chapter of the World Economic Forum, dubbed WEF Africa 2016. That Rwanda was chosen to host this high level international event sends out a strong signal both to the delegates and the world, but, most importantly, to the people of Rwanda.

The month of May 2016 opens on a high note for Rwanda. The country is hosting the African chapter of the World Economic Forum, dubbed WEF Africa 2016.

That Rwanda was chosen to host this high level international event sends out a strong signal both to the delegates and the world, but, most importantly, to the people of Rwanda.

The expectations, and at times anxiety, of the delegates was summarised by a delegate landing at Kigali International Airport in 2013 for the Transform Africa Summit. I had the privilege of being invited to that summit.

As we lined up in a special queue at the immigration desk, one Francophone delegate from Europe wondered loudly whether ‘…these people will manage a meeting of this magnitude!’ 

I calmed his fears, according him ‘double attention’ as we got out of immigration to the cheerful ushers: ‘...veuillez vous occuper de lui, njyewe ndi iwacu…’, I requested the lady receiving me, to join the one attending to this delegate, since myself I was home.

In the end, all delegates went back home satisfied after Transform Africa 2013 and the second one, 2015.

Delegates attending WEF Africa 2016 will have no less expectations, or even anxieties, than this Transform Africa 2013 delegate.

Besides ‘personal expectations’ of comfort, hospitality, security, leisure, which are crucial and need attention, there are  long-term expectations of some delegates, notably investment opportunities, trade opportunities or even permanent settlement in Rwanda.

This last one has a great potential for domicile tourism and has been used as a strategy by countries seeking to tap into the pockets of high-end tourists, especially retirees undertaking prolonged stays.

The current efforts by Rwanda Development Board (working with CET Rwanda and other partners) to position Rwanda to benefit from WEF Africa 2016, during and after the summit, are commendable and need the support of all stakeholders.

Previously hosted by such giants as Nigeria and South Africa, the choice of Rwanda is a signal to the world that the country is a key player in MICE tourism.

MICE stands for Meetings, Incentives Conferences and Exhibitions.

This subsector of tourism that entails meetings, incentives, conferences and events, is a yardstick by investors and other types of tourists.

MICE demands world-class standards in virtually everything. Successful hosting of such high level meetings gives the country a clean bill of health, opening opportunities in other forms of tourism and investment in the wider economy.

Africa in a larger perspective

To appreciate the position of Africa, we need to contextualise WEF Africa 2016. From its theme, Connecting Africa's Resources Through Digital Transformation, the summit will focus on digital transformation, which has catapulted economic activities into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The First Industrial Revolution was the transition from muscle power (both human and animal) to water and steam power running engines (engine power output is still measured in horsepower!). 

The Second Industrial Revolution dawned with the invention of electricity which replaced water and steam with the key feature here being mass production. Advancements led to the Third Industrial Revolution that dawned with electronics, whose key feature is automation.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is the digital era, builds on the Third, and with it, it seems ‘all is possible’. Such marvels as 3-D printing are only the beginning: designing a chair on your computer and printing it off the printer!

The enormity of this era’s implications was aptly summed up by Prof. Klaus Schwab, the Chairman and Founder of the World Economic Forum. We quote him verbatim:

‘We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society’

What does this mean for Africa?  Since the First Industrial Revolution, we have been at the ‘receiving’, consuming end. We lost out on water/steam power, electricity and electronics at invention level.

Even consumption itself is still limited. Human and animal muscle power is still a key driver of production in Africa. ‘African Renaissance’, ‘Africa Rising’…have not propelled us beyond being follower spectators in global developments.  What exactly is being ‘reborn’ or ‘rising’ as we smith clichés and slogans? 

We must diagnose and probe beyond participating in summits and conferences: what has made us lose out all along? Can Rwanda’s strategy of a transformational, developmental state be adopted as the development path for Africa? What would it take to have a supranational, continental developmental/transformational state?  

Over to you WEF Africa 2016 delegates!

 

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