There couldn’t be a better place for the World Economic Forum roadshow to land in Africa this week than next to the blue Indian Ocean with all its blue sky possibilities – surely a fillip for the mind, at least, in these grey days for business. Thousands of delegates will land in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, chosen over WEF’s usual playground in the fashionable tourist trap of Cape Town.
This will not only inject millions into a tourist city – that sometimes looks a bit frayed around the edges – but also comes at a time when the host nation is suffering incredible angst over its economic future. The once mighty South African economy is suffering a painful identity crisis over its long held, but not always warranted, title as the so-called the investment gateway to Africa.
What staggers me is that the people in power in the nation hosting WEF appear sanguine, to the point of complacent, over the cabinet reshuffle and subsequent downgrades to junk that are likely to play havoc with the economy.
The good thing about holding WEF in South Africa is that visiting delegates will not have to rely on reports, researchers and fact finders to sift through what is going on; just bump into your average working South African and you will hear it all in two minutes: uncertainty, struggle, fears for the future and concern over vague policy.
Speaking of vague policy, two words you will hear thrown around WEF quite a bit this year will be: “Inclusive growth.” It sounds good in cabinet, implying that everyone, right down to the poorest of the poor, should benefit from growth. I have always found that a strange misnomer because when there is growth it is the poor and the unemployed who are among first to feel its benefit through the multiplier. Jobs are created, industries spring up, money spent on goods and services, more taxes are paid to the benefit of those who can’t find jobs in the boom. If there is a lot of growth employers will have to hike wages, as competition for workers grows, which will increase living standards.
The only problem is that growth is viewed with nostalgia in South Africa right now and all the political slogans in the world are unlikely to change this. Forbes Africa believes the unfettering of private money will help to foster this growth that could take the country back to the prosperous days of 2005.
WEF will also be a good time for the business and political leaders of Africa to check the temperature of the world and continental economy. In Durban there will be plenty experts on what the Trump administration has in store for Africa; how power and infrastructure could hold the key to growth and how investors are trembling after weeks of pantomime in Africa’s most robust economy.
I always wonder about the wisdom of holding top level economic conferences in seaside resorts because the reassuring rhythmic crash of waves on the beach can lull delegates into a false sense of security.
Yet in Durban this scene can double as a field trip for WEF delegates. The wide blue Indian Ocean they will see out of their hotel windows could play a big part in the economy of Africa. According to South African government estimates, the ocean economy could lift growth by 4% by 2019 and create over a million jobs by 2033. It is one of the last, great, untapped resources.
The campaign to harvest the sea and create growth was well named by the South African government – Operation Phakisa. In Sesotho, it means hurry up.