No Longer the Centre of Attention: What the 2016 WEF meeting in Davos tells us about the issues facing Africa
The World Economic Forum (WEF), held in Davos Switzerland every year since 1971, is a gathering of (most of) the most important decision makers in business and government. Even though sceptics will note that the WEF itself has few peers when it comes to self-promotion there is no doubt that it provides a critical window into the preoccupations and thinking of the planet’s most prominent decision makers as well as a ‘safe space’ for their interaction.
Africa might well respond to Davos 2016 in the same way that an only child responds to the birth of a new sibling. After several years of being at or close to the centre of attention, on the back of the ‘Africa rising narrative’, the continent is no longer the centre of attention.
The session held on the second day, called ‘Africa’s Next Challenge’ was poorly attended and Africa-specific issues tended throughout the event to be lost amidst concerns about the ‘headwinds’ facing the global economy. The most newsworthy thing about the Africa session was the surprise (to the media) no-show by South Africa president Jacob Zuma. The WEF’s own ‘official’ daily summaries, released only for the first three days of the event, make no mention of any African participants, presentations or issues whatsoever.
It is worth however examining the trend of discussion, especially the global ‘headwinds’, as these have massive implications for the continent. The three most reported (and therefore it must be assumed preoccupations in 2016) were: 1) The current position and prospects for the Chinese economy; 2) Implications of the current low (±US$30) international oil price; 3) asset price adjustments in global markets. Other issues also trumped the Africa Rising narrative: The coherence of the European Union especially in the face of migration pressures, collapsing investment especially in emerging markets (except India), and conflict in the Middle East. All of these issues have implications for Africa and will be explored in this Trade Brief.
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