WEF Davos 2018: The good the bad and the ugly

(DAVOS) As Davos slides into its snowy fourth day (Thursday) there is the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good comes from the upbeat mood among many of the African delegates -especially those from South Africa – who are seeing the silver lining after years of fearing interest in investment in Africa was declining. The man likely to be the next president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa was setting out his vision behind closed doors here. Those who were there said it was clear South Africa is open for business and promises to crackdown on corruption.

The ebullient South African Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago was full of enthusiasm as he rushed through the media centre on the way to an interview.

“A year ago I was here telling people in Davos to stick with their investments in South Africa. This year I do not have enough time in the day to fit in all the people who want to talk to me about investing in South Africa,” he smiled.

The bad was the reaction from Washington officials when I asked the question about what was to become of the important US-backed Power Africa project to close the massive gap between demand and supply for electricity in the Donald Trump era. The best investors on the continent will tell you no power, no business in Africa.

The question I thought was a fair one – linked to the lives of 400 million people and a huge chunk of the earth’s surface filled with vital resources. It drew a vague and detached response. Power Africa was also the brainchild of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama and my fear was it could go the same way as Obamacare is going – into the bin.

“We have created 400 MW project in Ghana which is only a little over one per cent of what we have promised, but we are planning to go and visit Africa in the second quarter,” says Wilbur Ross the slow speaking,  United States Secretary of Commerce at a press briefing in Davos. A few hours later Nigerian millionaire Tony Elumelu, who is on the Power Africa steering committee, assured me  that the plan to build 30,000 MW of power generation – slightly more than the equivalent of the current output of South Africa – would be seen through by African investors.

The ugly could be the reception for when he jets into Davos on Thursday. The word on the ground here is protests have been planned. A thousand people marched in Zurich in protest against his visit, on Tuesday and a handful tried to protest at WEF in Davos but were thwarted by tight security..

Many of the African delegates here say they will boycott his speech on Friday in protest against his recent dismissive and disparaging remarks about the continent.

It is likely to be a strange couple of days in Davos. The Wall Street Journal called it :”First America” meets “We are the world.” Trump has not had much time for the globalists of Davos and it is likely to be awkward to say the least.

Trump will be eager to push his story about how much the US economy is growing since he took over and will also likely talk about the current trade dispute with China. The US has slapped 30% tariffs on solar power equipment and washing machines from China to the outrage of Beijing which is likely to retaliate.

Trump could be questioned about his attitude towards Africa during his flying visit to this tiny ski resort in the Alps. The ugliest part of the Trump visit is that not one constructive word about the economic future of Africa is likely to come out of his mouth. The leader of the free world won’t be too worried – Africa should be.

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