South African President Cyril Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa was already in the spotlight as the president of the host country for the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa, but this role took on greater proportions given the xenophobic attacks in Johannesburg that caused some keynotes and delegates from affected African countries to cancel their participation in solidarity with the attack victims.

In addition, Ramaphosa was targeted by protesters against gender violence who demanded to meet him to address their concerns, which were heightened by the recent high-profile rape and murder of a young woman.

Ramaphosa’s formal remarks at the WEF event were optimistic in light of the political climate surrounding the conference. “The future is great, it looks bright for the African continent, and if there was ever a time when Africa can definitely be said to be on the rise, this is the time. This is Africa's century, and we want to use it to good effect,” he said.

In response to thousands of protesters marching against violence against women (using the hashtag #EnoughIsEnough), Ramaphosa addressed an angry crowd and agreed to consider their request to call for a state of emergency over the level of violent crime committed against women in SA, along with comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system, which has often failed to prosecute perpetrators of rape and murder.

Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde

Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde provided a pragmatic perspective on the idea that investment and development only occur in the context of absolute political stability. She called on those in attendance to recognise that development and political security are interrelated in a circular fashion – more peace leads to more development, but more development also leads to more peace.

She also declared that the time had arrived where the opportunities of Africa’s large youth population outweighed the challenges. The challenges remain, but the youth dividend is starting to pay returns as seen in Ethiopia’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of almost 8%.

Raghav Prasad, president, Mastercard Sub-Saharan Africa

Raghav Prasad, president of Mastercard Sub-Saharan Africa, delivered research that shows that maintaining a cash economy costs African economies up to 1.5% in GDP growth annually. When African economies move away from the use of cash to digital payment systems, elimination of this cost to the economy creates a great opportunity for growth.

Prasad indicated that 95% of African economies operate with cash, thus producing a substantial upside in terms of growth coming from payment digitisation. He also said that digitisation drove social development by advancing the SME sector, the agriculture sector, and opportunities for the youth.

>> Watch the video here.

Sipho Pityana, AngloGold Ashanti chairman

Sipho Pityana, chairman of AngloGold Ashanti, brought to the forum his perspective as the chair of a pan-African corporation and recommended strongly that Africa needed to soften its borders. He pointed out that skills were in short demand and, to achieve efficiencies, high-level skills had to cross borders to take advantage of technological opportunities that would lift the continent.

This requires leadership that adheres to a pan-Africanist perspective, and Pityana called on Africa’s leaders to think and operate with a pan-Africanist view in all matters, including the all-important African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

Amina Mohammed, United Nations deputy secretary-general

Speaking to the international community, Mohammed put Africa’s “governance issue” into perspective. Her perspective, echoed by other senior leaders at the conference, is that governance is of course of paramount importance to the future development of Africa – but she drew attention to what is not generally acknowledged, that governance is not a uniquely African problem. Some of the biggest governance issues of the past year or two in Africa have involved global private sector companies with otherwise sterling reputations.

This article was paid for by Africa.com.