Defend Truth


In defence of the WEF

Brendan Love is Chairman of a Swiss-based group engaged in the precious metals and natural resources industries. A passionate Afro-optimist. A lover of fine art, history, politics and the free market. He divides his time between Johannesburg, South Africa and Geneva, Switzerland.

Set aside the fashion of cynicism and be grateful to the organisers of the World Economic Forum in Davos for giving prominence to the African continent. There is a desperate hunger to know all there is about Africa.

Kevin Bloom’s “Un-Davos 2012: The World Economic Forum That Isn’t”, invites comment.

How disappointing it was for those of us here at Davos to read Bloom’s ignorant assessment of the WEF. If we are to believe Bloom, the WEF is simply about the European debt crisis, which is just completely wrong.

This year’s WEF theme (to which Bloom didn’t bother alluding to) is “The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models”. Now of course the European debt crisis and the developed world’s prolonged economic recovery are of major concern to all WEF participants, but that is not what entirely occupies their minds.

The reality is that a tangible economic transformation is underway, and is the first of its kind in over 50 years. American and European politicians are acutely aware that the longer they dither in effecting sustainable economic reform to resolve their numerous problems, they will repel investment. But such is politics. Too little, always too late.

Coco Chanel once said, “Money is money is money, its only the pockets that change”.

Developed market asset managers, awash with unencumbered cash, are now looking for opportunities in developing countries. Why? Because they fundamentally believe that growth in developing countries will inevitably outstrip that of their own. They are inspired by flourishing entrepreneurship, with governments facilitating an environment that ensures red tape is kept to a minimum and providing attractive incentives to ensure swift but stable growth.

The majority of these developing countries are on the African continent.

Amongst the delegates here, there is a desperate hunger to know all there is about Africa, and herein lies the value of the WEF. The forum allows for the worlds decision makers to get to know more by engaging with the very enthusiastic people engaged in building the African continent economically and politically. What is immediately evident is those that are most optimistic about Africa are not Africans!
Investors are dizzy at the prospect of the enormous business potential in the millions of consumers across the continent. Millions of people that need to communicate, be fed, clothed, educated and transported.

In the panel discussion with African leadership, entitled “Africa – from transition to transformation!”, moderated by Gordon Brown, the audience was comprised of numerous high level delegations from across the globe (including two presidents). We sat captivated by the discussion between President Zuma, Prime Minister Zenawi of Ethiopia, PM Odinga of Kenya, President Conde of Guinea and President Kikwete of Tanzania.

The discussion dealt with a variety of topics, but inevitably focused on political stability (or rather the lack thereof in some nations), and economic development. The leaders provided sober analysis and offered numerous insights into their own economies, readily admitted shortcomings and provided solutions for areas requiring attention.

Undoubtedly, Africa continues to face formidable development challenges. That said, just 30 years ago, there were only three African democracies – Senegal, Mauritius and Botswana. Today, more than 40 African nations hold multi-party elections. This pattern is continuing, the entrenchment of democracy and the liberalisation of economies continues apace.

President Zenawi, quite correctly stated to much applause: “Africa is the big growth story in the world – lots to do!”.

Whilst I understand the fashion of cynicism, and appreciate that talk is cheap, Bloom needs to acknowledge that we owe Klaus Schwab and the organisers of the WEF a great debt of gratitude for giving prominence to the continent, and providing an environment for discussion that will undoubtedly lead to greater investment across all countries, and ultimately, bring prosperity to the millions of Africans who have suffered for far too long. This is Africa’s century.

Long may the WEF continue. It is a force for good. DM


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