This was three places down from 53rd in 2013, but South Africa remained the second most competitive country in the continent after Mauritius. The island nation rose to 39 in the rankings.
The report faulted African nations for lagging in establishing basic requirements for competitivess and failing to tap its human capital.
“Most worryingly, Africa is not benefitting from its human capital potential. The entire region is underperforming significantly in education and public health,” the report cautioned.
It adds that, with few exceptions, most African countries placed in the lower half of rankings that measured a country’s ability to fully leverage its human resource potential and singled out South Africa for criticism.
“South Africa, for example, ranks just 113th in the labour market efficiency pillar and has a university enrollment rate of just 19 percent, compared with 94 percent in the United States and 99 percent in the Republic of Korea.
“Going forward, increasing education attainment rates and adapting education to match the skills needed by the private sector as well as making the labour market more flexible will be critical for the required structural transformation.”
At a media briefing in Cape Town, WEF economist Caroline Galvan said improving the quality of education was key to growing competitiveness.
“Those are areas that take a long time to improve so now is the time to make investments. The quality of education is vital, providing the right skills to be competitive,” she said.
She added that as Africa as a region was experiencing unprecedented growth, economies here should bear in mind that competitiveness was the key to this being sustainable.
“In order to have long-term sustained growth we need to improve competitiveness.”
World Bank Group senior director for trade and competitiveness Anabel Conzalez advised African nations to seize opportunities for growth in the services sector, and said Mauritius was an example of how this was successfully done to boost growth and competitiveness.