This year's World Economic Forum on Africa (WEFA) was held under the theme of "Implications of the Global Economic Crisis for Africa" - an appropriate title for a region which most commentators said was unaffected by the crisis. It is now becoming clear that the indirect impact of the crisis is not yet fully known.
Compared to last year, attendance at WEFA was at a similar level, but there was definitely a toned down feeling to the event as talk of vast opportunity on the continent was replaced with that of long term survival tactics for both governments and business. Government delegates outlined their strategies to counter the downturn by implementing counter-cyclical measures, i.e. stimulating domestic demand and therefore economic growth and employment creation. Although the discussion panels attracted the who's who of the policy, business and government aristocracy - the deal cutting and networking discussions were to be found in the hallways and the adjacent hotels.
The Zimbabwean story generated a lot of attention mainly because of the government of national unity that had been formed in September last year and the resulting economic stability. Compared to the last 5 years; the country's private sector was well represented and added substance to the message that the politicians were carrying - that is, Zimbabwe is ready to do business with the rest of world. Understandably, there were several questions relating to policy consistency that are still outstanding and will need to be addressed if the country is to attract more investment. Sectors which were of particular interest to the media and investors were the mining, financial and hospitality sectors, all of which are meant to spearhead the country's economic recovery - and our own Group Chief Executive, Shingi Munyeza did manage to bag a few interviews to explain how a Zimbabwean company continued to grow profitably from a base of economic instability.
On a continental level, the message was clear - although the region was not affected by the crisis to the same extent as the financial and business hubs of the world, the long-term effects of the crisis are still unknown as most African economies are currently dependent on investment and demand from the worst affected countries. However, it is not all doom and gloom for the continent, because despite the global financial crisis, Africa is still offering higher than average rates of a return - a growing population and middle class means that the long term fundamentals initially driving investment into the continent are still in place.