THE 54th World Economic Forum (WEF) gets under way at Davos, Switzerland this coming week. In attendance will be more than 100 governments, major international organisations and enterprises, 1000 of the Forum’s partners together with civil society leaders, experts, youth representatives, social entrepreneurs and the media. Also in attendance will be Sekunjalo’s and Independent Media’s chairperson Dr Iqbal Survé, a veteran of the annual big league think tank.
Business Report sat with Dr Survé before his travels, to get his take on how he sees the 2024 gathering:
“The theme for this year’s gathering, ”Rebuilding Trust“, is a sad indictment of where the world finds itself, says Survé. The call for 2024 is for more transparency, consistency and accountability – noble intentions and quite necessary, but extremely hard to achieve.
The world is at war.
We are in a permanent state of fight or flight, with our collective adrenal system threatened by collapse and burn-out.There is a war of words and wills pretty much everywhere you look. People fighting for social, economic justice – to be heard, to be safe, to eat, to live.
The wars in Ukraine and the Middle East will no doubt take centre stage this year, as they have underscored the fragility of our global accord and environmental status. Africa, comparatively, has had several years of relative peace, and to my mind, should be an example used by WEF to promote peace across the world.
The contradiction to this, however, is that South Africa, once a leading and important voice at WEF, and indeed, throughout the world, has seen its reputation diminish during the Ramaphosa era. Consequently, the African agenda at WEF has taken a bit of a back seat of late, which includes encouraging foreign direct investment into our country.
I mean, Ramaphosa is somewhat of a mercurial chameleon, changing allegiance at the drop of a hat, and has made believing in South Africa’s promise very difficult. Certainly, from the conversations I have had with my international colleagues and friends, his forked-tongued reign has been a major disappointment. To be frank, I am not going to put my international credibility on the line and say to people they must invest in South Africa.
Just look at how Sekunjalo and I have been treated by this government as an example, or the absolute collapse of our state-owned enterprises, once flagships – not exactly the sort of behaviour that encourages trust in the establishment. For this, and many other reasons, I do not expect to see too many South African companies or leaders in their fields going to Davos this year.
It’s beyond a crying shame that Ramaphosa and his cronies do not take an invitation to attend WEF with the seriousness it warrants. Our country has a 58% unemployment rate amongst our youth – this is the highest in the world. As a dire warning, the next country on the list with a high youth unemployment rate is Palestine and look what is happening there … a disenfranchised and disillusioned youth with no useful outlet for their frustrations is dangerous.
This is also a lesson the rest of the world should take heed of, especially considering the rise and rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and its easy ability to supplant labour. I believe that AI will feature heavily at WEF this year, and just how it can be harnessed to drive future social and economic growth.
This year’s WEF also takes place against the backdrop of increasing multipolarity. This will make for interesting discussions for all those assembled, whether they are attending the panel discussions or rubbing shoulders at any of the many evening events.
Traditionally, since the advent of democracy, South Africa has deployed a non-alignment approach. Under Mandela, Mbeki and even Zuma to a certain extent, we were neither friend nor foe to any country or entity. This was respected and valued, to the point where we were asked to broker numerous peace deals.
This stance has been somewhat challenged during the Ramaphosa era, which has a more shotgun approach to selling our allegiance to the highest bidder, or getting what it can from both sides of the argument.
Under the multipolarity wing, 2023 saw the evolution of the BRICS alliance, from its purely political forum roots to blossoming as an economic body that is attracting those that are ever more disillusioned by the so-called Developed World. This is bound to have an impact on WEF, which to date has been a predominantly West axis-driven organisation.
Ultimately, and to paraphrase the delightful Ms Sandra Bullock in the movie Miss Congeniality, all we “really want is world peace”.
That is my goal when I go to WEF this year, I try and make sure that the discussions are enriched with a perspective about a shared humanity, especially Africa being part of that shared humanity and South Africa being part of that. And yes, the World Economic Forum constitutes only 0.01% of the world, but it only takes one person to make a difference. Now imagine if it was that 0.01% with clout who can catalyse peace; where would we be then?
For me, it doesn’t matter who starts, it’s who ensures we can achieve and sustain a peaceable and peaceful equilibrium.
So, I have a purpose in going to the World Economic Forum, and that purpose is to share the view that it is possible to have a better world if we are less greedy, if we are prepared to share, if we are prepared to engage with others and to find peace and to have difficult conversations about finding peace.
One of the fundamental principles towards peace is understanding that we must never confuse the militarist militarism of individual leaders, governments or political parties with what the people want or need. They are but doctrines that by and large are forced on the masses by the few. For the most part, people wish to live in harmony with each other, whether they are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or any other religion, race, colour or creed.
Can WEF achieve this in Davos? Peace is never an overnight affair. Striking deals and accords can be done relatively quickly, of course, but it is the longevity of peace that is the goal. With so many real wars happening on so many fronts and so many trigger-happy dogmas in dominance, attending WEF for me, this year is far more than looking for that next business deal; it is about the business of our collective future … if we are to have one.