WEF Africa 2017 – Co-Chairs Opening Conference, May 2017


Post date: 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017 – 15:52

In partnership with the Government of the Republic of South Africa, the World Economic Forum on Africa (“WEF Africa”) was held in Durban, South Africa, on 3-5 May 2017. The meeting convened regional and global leaders from business, government and civil society to “explore solutions to create economic opportunities for all”.

Winnie Byanyima was appointed to be a Co-Chair for WEF Africa 2017. More information about the Meeting can be found here. Ahead of WEF Africa, Oxfam released a new report titled ‘Starting with People,’ which challenged African leaders to champion new economic models that are ‘fit for the future’. An article about the report can be found here

On Wednesday 3 May Winnie spoke at the Co-Chairs Opening Conference. She was joined by Siyabonga Gama (Group Chief Executive Officer, Transnet, South Africa), Frédéric Lemoine (Chairman of the Executive Board, Wendel, France), Rich Lesser (Global Chief Executive Officer and President, Boston Consulting Group, USA), Adrian Monck (Head of Public and Social Engagement, Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum) and Ulrich Spiesshofer (President and Chief Executive Officer, ABB, Switzerland). Her remarks can be found below.


Let me pay tribute to Elsie and her team and the leadership at WEF for the work they have done bring us all together. It is an honour to be here as a co-chair, and a voice of civil society. 

We have an overriding responsibility over these next few days, not to hide from the tough challenges facing this continent. WEF provides a unique opportunity to step away, a little bit, from our roles and our lofty positions, and to listen to new and different voices.

That is what good leadership does. It listens to those it is trying to lead. 

And if we listen, what do we hear?

Just a few weeks ago, I heard from women choosing between hunger or fear of rape in South Sudan and families in North Eastern Nigeria exhausted after days of walking to relative safety. Just some of the 20 million people at risk of starvation across three African countries and Yemen. 

Here in South Africa we hear the questions people are asking about their political and economic leaders, in a country where inequality remains rife. Oxfam’s calculations are that South Africa’s richest one percent owns 42 percent of the country’s total wealth.

We hear young people and women across the continent asking where their future is. The ILO estimates that 70% of Africa’s young workforce are working but still in poverty.

Our answer to this in the next few days must be more than empty discussions about making existing growth models growth more inclusive. It must be leadership that explicitly commits to end poverty and reduce inequality, as the vision in the sustainable development goals requires of us. 

We need to build economies across Africa that work for people, more human economies. Inequality is a choice. Poverty is a choice. Drought and climate change may come, but that they lead to famine, in 2017, is a choice.

Africa’s leaders and all who work with them need to make different choices.