From left, Anton du Plessis, executive director of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, Donald Kaberuka, former President of the African Development Bank Group, and Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International during the session Eye on Fragile States at WEF Africa. PHOTO: Laura Skippers

The issue of what constituted "fragile states" came under the spotlight at a session of the World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban on Thursday.

At the discussion titled An eye on fragile status in Africa, several regional and global leaders entered into conversation on the current efforts that were being carried out to address the challenges of conflict and associated fragility in parts of Africa. According to the Fragile States Index, in 2016 some of the continent's most fragile states included Somalia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Niger, Burundi, Central Africa Republic, and Chad.

However, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe hit back, saying his country was not poor and was highly developed. "We are not a poor country and we can't be a fragile country, I can call America fragile, they went with their knees to China."

Donald Kaberuka, former President of the African Development Bank Group, said: "Today we are talking about fragility in Africa. I think that is completely wrong because there are elements of fragility everywhere.

"When we talking about fragility we think about countries, in fact, the spinover effects of fragility in one area can outgrow consequences."

According to Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, it would be wrong for the WEF to take place without raising the issue of the three famines that were currently happening in Africa which she felt was unprecedented.

"The last time we had a famine in Somalia, 260 000 people died, half of them were children. Now it is three famines,"she said. "I went into Nigeria three weeks ago to this region of the North East where Boko Haram has raised havoc since 2009 and now 47 000 people are living in famine conditions even though it has not been declared and five million are on the brink of famine."

She said that this region had been in dire straits even before Boko Haram took root and had always been the most unequal and marginalised region of a fairly wealthy country like Nigeria.