(HN, June 28, 2010) -- Cape Town, South Africa -- Speeding up regional integration is one of the key ways to increase Africa's attractiveness as a place to do business.
This was the common refrain among speakers at the Fortune Global Forum today. So too was the need to address the deep knowledge gap among outsiders.
Emblematic of the legacy of colonialism on the continent is the fragmented railway system - a key component for robust trade - where Africa maintains several different railway gauges. "How do you harmonize something like that?" said Iqbal Sharma, the Deputy Director General and CEO of South Africa's Trade and Investment Department.
He added: "Regional integration in Africa is something fairly new for us and it is a complex process."
While there is no lack of regional economic group memberships for a country like South Africa - these range from the African Economic Community to NEPAD to the South African Development Community - more tangible integration needs to happen for a more favourable investment environment to occur.
Especially important is investment in infrastructure, which Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons addressed by saying, “Infrastructure spending needs to move much higher on the respective agendas of African countries. If countries want to attract investment they need to invest in themselves."
Echoing the comments yesterday by former President Bill Clinton about Africa becoming a wireless continent, one investment executive said Africa is very much on the radar screen of "non-bank banks" – companies such as Nokia for instance, which seeks to empower consumers through innovations such as mobile banking - which in turn could generate more micro-financing.
Overall, the sentiment at the global forum of business leaders has moved from unfamiliarity of Africa to a feeling that western business is missing out on exciting – and potentially lucrative - opportunities on the continent.
Said renowned African woman – a Mozambican, wife of Nelson Mandela, widow of the late Mozambican president Samora Michel and women and child rights advocate Graça Machel: "This continent is changing. There is really a movement which is coming. But it needs to be strengthened and become less fragmented."
--- Reporting by HUMNEWS’ Michael Bociurkiw, at the Fortune/TIME/CNN Global Forum in Cape Town, South Africa