What should the WEF on Africa address? Business leaders share their thoughts

This week the 24th World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa, held in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, will bring together global business and political leaders to discuss the future of investment and sustainable development of Africa, under the theme, Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs.

How we made it in Africa spoke to a handful of Africa’s business leaders to find out what they are hoping will come out of the event.


Ashish Thakkar, founder of the Mara Group

“The fact that this 24th meeting of the WEF is being held in Nigeria is, I think, very fitting. Not only does Nigeria have the continent’s biggest population, it is now officially Africa’s biggest economy. The changing story about Africa and the newfound optimism about the future of the continent is all reflected in Nigeria’s remarkable story of the last 15 years, and I am very excited to be a part of it.

“This year, as you know, the theme is Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs, and I think the key will be what resolutions we can come to in terms of giving support to SMEs (small and medium enterprises) and the entrepreneurs behind them.

“One of the important lessons that we as Africans have learnt in the post-2008 global economy is the importance of having diversified economies that are not as reliant on one or two commodities or on foreign investment, and which are therefore more resilient against external shocks. And building those economies means that we must think differently, and we must invest in entrepreneurship.

“It cannot be achieved if we continue to do things in the same way. We have to take advantage of the fact that we have no legacy systems, and of our ability to leapfrog. For me that means using technology to accelerate the progress of SMEs and supporting young entrepreneurs by giving them the means to learn and grow. This is one of the reasons that we founded Mara Mentor, which is an online platform for young entrepreneurs to connect with and learn from business leaders and successful entrepreneurs from around the world.

“So, I am hopeful that this forum can help shift some much needed focus towards the needs of SMEs and young entrepreneurs, who are the job creators of tomorrow.”


Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, founder of soleRebels

“I would love to see more discussions on how to unlock the entrepreneurial energy around the continent. There is a lot of bubbling at the surface, but I feel it’s time now for more energy in that direction so we can really catalyse the next wave of grassroots Africa entrepreneurs and then enable them to scale and grow their businesses and brands to be global players.”

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Anthony Thunstrom, chief operating officer for KPMG’s Global Africa Practice

“The fact that this is being hosted in Nigeria… I think it is almost Nigeria’s coming out event… There just seems to be a fundamental shift in attitude once Nigeria officially took on the title of being the biggest economy in Africa, even though nothing has officially changed.

“I have had a look at the list of confirmed attendees for the WEF… I think it’s the most incredible combination of political and business leaders globally and across the continent. So for me it’s a way of cementing what has been announced around Nigeria’s economy. And then I think on a practical level what we are likely to see is – given the sentiment around Nigeria has kicked up so much – we are generally likely to see a lot of investment interest in Nigeria from people who were perhaps still sitting on the fence. A lot of them are going to be there, so people representing private equity funds, representing global capital markets, representing some of the world’s largest banks, they are all going to be there. They are going to inevitably have one-on-one meetings or be exposed to local businesses in Nigeria and the rest of West Africa and frankly, sub-Saharan Africa overall.

“To pull it all together, I think what I hope to see is some concrete deal making based on the fact that there is all this positive attention rising at the moment that wasn’t necessarily there before.”