Flags on the roof of the congress centre during preparations for the annual WEF meeting in the Swiss Alps resort of Davos, Switzerland, on January 19 2020. Picture: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE
Flags on the roof of the congress centre during preparations for the annual WEF meeting in the Swiss Alps resort of Davos, Switzerland, on January 19 2020. Picture: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE

Global leaders from the public sector, private sector, civil society and academia met this week in Davos, Switzerland, for the 50th anniversary of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Africa.com curated keynote speeches, panel discussions, spotlight talks, exhibits and sideline events to bring you an understanding of what happened at WEF from the African perspective.  

This year’s theme was “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World”, aimed at addressing the current fractured nature of the global relations. 

WEF’s historic role has been a platform where institutions and individuals address the economic, environmental, social and technological challenges of a complex, interdependent world.

The theme was covered in six topics:

ECOLOGY: Acting on urgent climate and environmental challenges: how to mobilise business and government to act now on urgent climate, water and biodiversity challenges.

ECONOMY: Anticipating challenges to global economic stability: how to create a more inclusive and sustainable economy while managing risks for global financial stability.

SOCIETY: Investing in human capital for inclusive societies: how to invest in human capital, reskilling 1-billion people in the next decade and reigniting optimism about the equality of opportunity.

TECHNOLOGY: Governing Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies: how to create a global consensus on deployment of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies and avoid a “tech war”.  

INDUSTRY: Transforming markets towards sustainable and inclusive capitalism: how to transform businesses and markets to target global challenges while navigating technological and political uncertainty.

GEOPOLITICS: Navigating geoeconomic shifts towards a more cohesive world: how to build multi-stakeholder institutions that can restore trust, reduce tensions and resolve conflicts in global hot spots.

Read Africa.com’s executive editor’s view on the most important Africa-related events that took place at WEF 2020.

1. The biggest African player in the house

The largest African private sector participant at WEF is Standard Bank. With operations in more than 20 African countries, and a market cap of more than $20bn, Standard Bank plays an important leadership role in this environment.

Africa.com asked Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala some important questions about how the bank thinks about leadership, sustainability and its responsibilities to its stakeholders.

Read or listen to the conversation below.

2. Zambian teen stole the show from Greta Thunberg

In a panel featuring youth activists (the youngest panel ever assembled at WEF) everyone expected renowned climate change activist Greta Thunberg to be the shining light among the four speakers. While Thunberg, who is no wallflower by any measure, certainly held her own and reiterated her compelling talking points on the need for urgent action, the surprise voice was Natasha Mwansa, who had the audience on the edge of their seats.

Mwansa, the 18-year-old Zambian teenager, has her own foundation, and is a compelling advocate and activist for girls and women’s reproductive rights. She has used her voice to spark political action to address the underfunding of maternal health and forced marriages of young girls. Mwansa explained that young people want more than to simply speak at conferences or become spokespeople for meaningful causes: they want to become partners in political change.

Intergenerational partnerships are necessary to help translate youth mobilisation into political change.

“The older generation has a lot of experience, but we have ideas. We have energy,” said Mwansa.

Watch the video below.

3. Debate rages over Motsepe’s ‘Africa loves you’ remark to Trump

Patrice Motsepe was invited to a White House-hosted dinner at Davos, at which the attendees were about 25 global CEOs of companies including Volkswagen, Sony, Shell, Nokia and Barclays. When asked to introduce himself, Motsepe said to US President Donald Trump, “Africa loves you” and Twitter had a meltdown.

In 2018, Trump referred to the citizens of African countries by saying, “Why do we want these people from all these sh#thole countries here [in America]?” He has not renounced that statement, and many in Africa remain offended and puzzled at Motsepe’s unqualified praise for the person who referred to Africa in those terms.

While some came to Motsepe’s defence, there didn’t seem to be agreement on the issue.

4. Motsepe’s philanthropy on display

Patrice Motsepe and his wife Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, the newly elected vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, hosted several events showcasing the success of their work through their Motsepe Foundation. Five years ago, The Motsepe Foundation, headed by Moloi-Motsepe, joined forces with the Schwab Foundation, founded by WEF founder Klaus Schwab and his wife Hilde.

The work of the two foundations is centred on social entrepreneurship, supporting people who are developing innovative business models for social or environmental good. The Motsepe Foundation’s contribution marries Moloi-Motsepe’s affiliation with the Harvard Kennedy School of Government by funding an executive education component for Schwab social entrepreneur award winners at the Kennedy School.

Many social entrepreneurs act instinctively, doing what they feel is right — until they experience the Harvard Kennedy School programme. There, they receive academic input, training, exposure and peer learning; it’s an important continuous learning opportunity for them.

5. Ghana — the African economy to watch

At previous Davos meetings, the economic darlings have been Nigeria and SA, the two largest economies on the continent. With these countries dealing with their own domestic political and economic challenges, Ghana took centre stage as the African economy to watch at this year’s WEF.

Quite conspicuously, the presidents of Nigeria and SA did not attend Davos this year. However, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo was in attendance, along with a strong delegation of his economic team, and declared that the programme of economic recovery the Ghanaian government put in place when he was elected three years ago had been highly successful.

He delivered a large number of data points to support his assertion, including the following:

“The deficit we inherited on January 7 2017 was 9.3%. Today it is 4.5%. Inflation was at 15.4% when we came into office, today it is 7.9%. We have, for the first time, a positive trade balance. The nation’s reserves, which was at 2.5 months import cover in 2017, has grown to 4.5 months in the period of these three years.

“Generally, the growth, of course, has grown from an average of 3.6% to an average of 7% in the last 3 years. You see an economy that has somehow reversed the decline, and is moving on an upward trajectory. It has also meant that these improving economic indices have us touted as the country that receives the largest investment in the ECOWAS/West African Region.” 

Listen to Africa.com’s exclusive interview with Ghana’s finance minister, the honourable Ken Ofori-Atta. The minister holds a bachelor in economics from Columbia and an MBA from Yale, and is the founder of Databank, one of Ghana’s leading brokerage and asset management houses.

6. One woman’s urgent message to Davos

For the world’s most vulnerable, climate change is not a distant existential threat: it is killing people right now. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, president of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad, gave a powerful reality check:

“In my region people are dying because of climate change.”

In the video below, Ibrahim explains what it’s like to live in a place where the effects of climate change are already being felt.

7. Deepfake see what it is

Part of what makes Davos spectacular is access to knowledge, specifically the latest tech innovations. In this regard, Africa.com’s executive editor Teresa Clarke had a chance to demo what is being called Deepfake.

Deepfake is the use of artificial intelligence to learn how a person’s face moves with speech when expressing emotion. In this video, a live-stream of Clarke’s face is transformed into the face of various famous people including Theresa May, Michelle Obama, Will Smith and George Bush.  

8. Ethiopia’s version of Sesame Street

Bruktawit Tigabu Tadesse gave a talk on the work she is doing with her husband to educate Ethiopian children on a mass scale.

Tadesse was determined to improve the conditions of children in the country and looked for ways to educate children on a mass scale. As a former schoolteacher in Addis Ababa, she and her husband developed multimedia enterprise Whizz Kids Workshop.

Working from their living room, using sock puppets, computer graphics and their own voices, she began producing Tsehai Loves Learning, the first educational preschool television programme in the country. Whizz Kids Workshop developed more programmes and won numerous international awards and accolades: Next Generation Prize at Prix Jeunesse International (2008); the Japan Prize International Contest for Educational Media (2008, 2009); named a Rolex Young Laureate (2010); and one of Fast Company’s 2012 most creative people in business.

This article was paid for by Africa.com.

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