Kathy Gibson reports from the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town – An Oxfam study reveals that Africa has been cheated out of $11-billion by multinational companies reducing their tax bills.

The report, “Africa: Rising for the Few”, stresses that reforming global tax rules so that Africa can claim the money that it is due is critical if the continent is to continue its economic growth.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam in the UK, points out that the 30 richest people in the world have the same combined wealth as the 3,4-billion poorest. Meanwhile, 10 Africans own as much as the poorest half of the continent, of 500-million people.

“Many of us seek to challenge the idea that inequality is a necessary consequence of growth,” Byanyima says. “We are witnessing a shift in thinking that informs us that inequality is actually bad for growth. It is no longer a problem just for those at the bottom, but harms us all.

“But too much of Africa’s growth is failing to reach its poorest people.”

She adds that the $11-billion lost to Africa is equivalent to more than six times the amount of money needed to provide primary healthcare to four countries hit hardest by the recent Ebola crisis: Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Guinea Bissau.

Inclusivity is one of the major theme at this year’s WEF Africa conference. And youth is high on the agenda as a group that needs to be brought into the mainstream economy.

Edward Ndopu, the 25-year old regional activism and youth co-ordinator (Africa) for Amnesty International in South Africa, believes that inclusion is not a negotiable, but a moral and political imperative.

Ndopu is spearheading a youth-led campaign “Africa: not for Sale”, which seeks to expose how the Africa rising narrative is in contradiction with the reality on the ground.

“By 2025, one in four young people in the world will be from sub-Saharan Africa,” he says. “But young people are often disenfranchised by poverty. We seek to reveal the truth beneath the hype, which is that Africa cannot rise without Africans themselves rising.”

Young people are calling for investment in the continent – but not at the expense of youth development and opportunities.

“The youth are not seeking permission from any individual or institution: we are calling on multinational corporates to stop auctioning our future in the name of a growth model that is not inclusive, and where human rights are not promoted at the forefront of the agenda.”

The campaign has identified five areas that it believes need to become a reality for Africa and its youth population to prosper.

They are a mobile Africa where there is freedom of movement; and online Africa through a charter on
Internet rights that gives people the right to information and access to justice; an ethical and transparent Africa where leaders promote and strengthen legislation; a non-disposable Africa where land grads and forced evictions are halted; and an imaginative Africa where the arts are protected and promoted.

“Africa’s future is at stake,” Ndopu says. “But I am optimistic because young people throughout the continent are amplifying their voices and going after the future we want.”

Jennifer Blanke, chief economist and member of the management committee of the World Economic Forum, says the excessive inequality has been identified as a top risk, both in its own right and linked to other issues like the economy, unemployment and societal unrest.

“There is no doubt that inequality is holding back growth.”

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, under-secretary general and executive director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women in New York, points out that most of what African leaders aspire to cannot be achieved without inclusivity.

“Whether we talk about environmental issues, poverty, inequality or sustainable peace – all of the big issues – there is no way we can really address them without all the people.”

This includes empowering women, she says, and so more needs to be done to advance issues like girls’ education, unwanted pregnancy and early marriages in order to get women in significant numbers into the mainstream economy.