President Jacob Zuma poses for a photograph with delegates after participating in a discussion at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2017 meeting in Durban. Picture: Rogan Ward/Reuters
Let us not be surprised when WEF on Africa flies above the heads and hearts of most of our people, says Victor Kgomoeswana.

English poet from the Romantic Age, William Blake, lived by the maxim: “I must create a system or be dominated by another man’s”. Rather than criticising what others are doing, which gives it more credence, he would concentrate his resources on the business of creation.

These words rang in my head when during a radio discussion on the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in Durban this week. Many callers bemoaned the failure of the discussions like those at WEF to “trickle down to the people on the ground”.

Why would the rulers of the world waste their time at any WEF session, regional or out in Davos, on the masses, let alone African masses? The WEF was created in 1971 to control the world. Its stated purpose was to improve the “state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas”.

Since then, membership of the Forum predominantly comprises business empires with billions of dollars in revenues; hardly the champions of the poor Africans masses. Membership of this exclusive club costs more about $20 000 for individuals and more than $600 000 for what is called a Strategic Partner. Sounds like a recipe for mass participation! If we want any benefit “trickling down to us”, we must do it ourselves. Protesting at every WEF session will not get any substantive results, either.

In Durban, the demonstrators were highlighting the perennial income inequality in the streets; while the delegates were ensconced in the air-conditioned meeting rooms of the International Convention Centre. South African Finance Minister, Malusi Gigaba, toiled to explain that elusive phenomenon: radical economic transformation. He conceded that we could (more like should) have done more to make our economy inclusive. Why did we not, since 1994?

Back to Blake, the system we used was not our own creation. We opted to pacify international investors, their proxies in credit rating agencies and the Bretton Woods institutions, i.e. the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In the name of free market policies, these institutions force-fed us such anti-poor hobbies like privatisation, fiscal austerity, free trade and deregulation.

To comply, we relaxed exchange controls - and some of the old money fled the country. We sold off or compromised our state-owned enterprises, rushed into international trade arrangements, crippling our textiles production capability and creating space for American chicken to be dumped on our limping poultry industry, etc. We chastise our workers when they ask for a living wage.

Instead of prioritising and incentivising intra-Africa trade, African countries concluded divisive economic partnership agreements with European trading partners. We gave our Brics partners almost unfettered access to our natural resources.

In return, we get rewarded with excellent Global Competitiveness rankings or the promise of a good sovereign credit rating, if not threatened with a downgrade, to keep us in line. When our masses complained that they were not experiencing the fruits of our political freedom, we labelled them ungrateful instead of thanking them for ending apartheid or colonial subjugation. We applauded ourselves for glossy economic growth figures and celebrated the number of South Africans receiving social grants, while neglecting education.

We adopted policy after another. RDP morphed into GEAR, then ASGISA; and then the NDP. Affirmative Action evolved into BEE, which mutated into BBBEE; and now RET. All these policies remain the dictates of others, or simply shrivel and die, still craving implementation or execution.

In short, we continued to allow others to write our script. We put our best foot forward when going to WEF in Davos, than when we address a group of civilians participating in a service delivery protest; in fact, we dismiss such as puppets of somebody else’s political agenda.

So, let us not be surprised when WEF on Africa flies above the heads and hearts of most of our people. It shall stay that way until we fashion our own Forum and follow through on our excellent policies.

* Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business; media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs, and a weekly columnist for African Independent - Twitter: @VictorAfrica

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent