Back to Forum

Interrogating Values Emanating from World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to Challenges in Contemporary Africa

The Annual World Economic Forum takes place every January in Davos, Switzerland. The 2024 Forum, also the 54thSummit, took place from 15th -19th January. The theme was “Rebuilding Trust.” From its inception in 1971, the World Economic Forum has been recognized as the International Organization for public-private cooperation. There is another forum called World Social Forum which takes place at the same time in Porto Allegre, Brazil. In the last decades, the World Economic Forum has been dominated by the G7 countries. This is the platform upon which most developed nations set their economic agenda for the world community. Apart from the G7, the Forum also engages friends of the G7, either as direct beneficiaries of the G7 investments in their countries or as stakeholders who have great potential to influence, compete with, and direct development policies that favour these powerful great nations. In this respect, the Forum brings together political, business, cultural, religious and recognized leaders who shape the regional, global and industry agenda.

Even though the Forum was established in 1971 as a not-for-profit foundation headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, its impartiality has come into question in regards to ongoing climate change debates. There has been very little progress made on implementation of policies and strategic plans emanating from the 2022 COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt and the 2023 COP28 in Qatar. The discussion to cut down global heating to below 1.5 degrees has stood out but has been frustrated by countries that produce and benefit from fossil fuels. Some of these countries come to Davos to defend their position on continuously extracting fossil fuels from heavy investments coming from the G7 nations. The Forum tends to close eyes to causes of conflicts and wars in the Middle East and across the vast continent of Africa. Impartiality is tested when questions arise over causes of migration and refugees moving across borders in search of better livelihoods. The spirit of entrepreneurship championed by the Forum has been mostly geared towards self-gain rather than widening investment.

This policy distortion has contributed immensely to a culture of mistrust and misgiving on how this Forum can continuously uphold highest standards of governance, social justice and human dignity for the common good. We are going to demonstrate how moral and intellectual integrity has been affected by bad practices on the continent of Africa. One major concern for the G7 as articulated by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), was about rebuilding trust in the fragmented world with rising social divisions. But how is rebuilding trust understood in Africa today in 2024?

First, let us remind ourselves of what took place in 2005 in Gleneagles, Scotland under the theme “Make Poverty History,” in reference to Africa. The UK Foreign Secretary, then the late Hon. Robin Cook, led the campaign and demonstrations on the theme in the streets of Edinburgh together with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, archbishop of Westminster. Some of us had been invited by Catholic Civil Societies of Scotland to represent Africa. The G8 Summit, as was known then, set the agenda to fight poverty in Africa. First, they had to start by forgiving Africa of its debt. Most African countries were strewn in debt going into billions of dollars. To the surprise of many rights campaigners, the debt forgiveness question was accepted by the G8 nations. They even agreed to set aside $60 billion as a loan for the new development of Africa. For every one dollar that is given to develop Africa, six dollars go back to the donor. Parrick Bond demonstrated why this decision was wrong. He makes a point in a journal paper of 2007: “Dispossession of African Wealth at the cost of Africa’s Health,” International Journal of Health Services, Vol. 37, No. 1 (2007), pp. 171-192. Mark Anderson of the Guardian, follows up in the July 15, 2014 article titled “Aid to Africa: donations from west mask ‘$60bn looting’ of continent.” The article says that “while western countries send about $30bn in development aid to Africa every year, more than six times that amount leaves the continent, mainly to the same countries providing that aid”. This means that for $60 billion given in aid, Africa loses $360 billion in repayment. Dambisa Moyo Dead Aid, 2009, has been strong on critiquing because Africa does not need aid from the west because of how the stakeholders have misused it in the past. Paul Collier in Bottom Billion, 2007, argues why the poorest countries, especially in Africa, are failing when they have so much wealth. What can be done about it? It all goes to economic policies and models we embrace. Do they have any collective values which benefit everyone, or is it one person who owns all the wealth and the rest of the people linger in poverty?

The second reflection comes from a 2019 Davos panelist discussion articulated by Winnie Byanyima, former Oxfam International director based in Nairobi, Kenya and now with UNAIDs, Geneva. In this panel, the debate was centered around the rising levels of inequality around the world. According to the Oxfam Report, 2019, there were 26 billionaires had the same wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people combined, when half of the world’s population lives on than $6 per day. This question triggers another important question on inequality: Do we need to redistribute wealth or create wealth? The experience in the USA at that time was record unemployment rates following major corporate tax cuts. Ken Goldman explained why the rich, like Gates, are improving the quality of life in Africa, fighting malaria and polio, and investing in people. In California, the minimal wage had stabilized at $15. So, how do you solve inequality beyond taxes? Byanyima from Oxfam gave a robust reply:

“It also depends on what you are counting,” she said. “I took a taxi in Nairobi recently and I was charged less than $2. I asked the taxi driver, he was from one of these companies, I won’t mention which, I said: ‘How much are you getting?’ He said, ‘20% must go to the global company.’ He said, ‘The rest I have to share with the owner of the taxi.’ I asked him where he lives. He said, they rent a room, three taxi drivers. They sleep in turns. Six hours, five hours. Because none of them can afford to rent a room. That’s the job. Those are the jobs you are being told about.”

These jobs give low wages in the name of creating employment but exploit and lower the dignity of the worker. Quality jobs and fair pay can uplift the person out of poverty.

A third reflection is about the current narratives of nostalgia coming out of African academics while critiquing the effects of colonialism and coloniality in favor of the decolonization of Africa. Davos may not discuss such pertinent issues, but scholars from Africa do. There are some current African scholars who tend to ignore Afrocentricity theory as an emerging school of thought coming out of most democratic social systems of African states. But when they interact with Afrocentricity, they seem to suggest that Africa does not need anyone from the west to solve its problems. Yet they are schooled in the same methods and methodologies that offer the same oppressive narratives on development in Africa. They easily invoke Ubuntu, Utu, Ujamaa social system, Naapo philosophy of Samburu Pastoralists, and Naath and Nefir philosophies of key nations in Sudan. But these scholars fail to address how the values from these philosophies will contribute to the dignity of the human person, the common good and collective solutions from the local context from which to influence international development. How do these philosophies add to social transformations across Africa? We need to avoid lamentation and move toward implementation. We need more scholars to find a middle path of collaboration with well-meaning organizations to better the life of Africans rather than desegregation. We need to understand the African proverb which says, ‘for the hare to defeat the elephant it agrees to work together but keeping a critical distance’. Collaboration gives the hare equal opportunities to roam the same territory occupied by the elephant. When there is conflict of interests, they negotiate without war. This argument has been triggered by military coups which have taken place, especially in the Francophone Africa—Mali, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Niger, Chad, Guinea, and Sudan. The main argument has been oppression and exploitation by investors from their colonial masters. African gained political independence without economic independence. The post COVID-19 situation has triggered a new awakening. The question is, with the coups and having young leaders with little experience on manipulation and carrot games, can countries really be propelled by their leaders to greater economic opportunities in a different manner from their predecessors, who were seen as puppets of their past colonial masters? Does Africa need to be economically independent without collaboration with other economies?

Some scholars lament the Marshall Plan as a revival strategy for economic development. This, again, is a far-fetched argument because the reasons behind the success of Marshall Plan after the war in Europe may not necessarily favour Africa. General Marshall was tasked to rebuild Europe from scratch after its destruction during World War II. The same infrastructure used to build tankers, war lorries, trains, guns and ammunition was intact. It took less than three years, and Europe was up and kicking forward. Africa has a different infrastructure and different ideologies to harness a better development plan. The new generation of scholars ought to come up with transformative models that create a mix of good ingredients in a cauldron of development, cooked with interdisciplinary spices and served as a new model for social transformation in Africa.

In conclusion, students of social transformation, try not to lament and cry why Africa has continued to be exploited from outside. We even blame colonialism. Others blame the incursion of Christianity and Islam. This is called dead knowledge. You lament and do nothing. But we are encouraged to build collaborative ministries, integrative knowledge, have rational choice strategies, and work on advocacy as social transformers who are protagonists of integral human development in Africa. It means we can do a lot more to bridge the West and Africa. Collaboration could find synergy in 50-50 investments in communities without exploitation. Take extractive industry: to process oil to petrol can have a 50-50 share locally under FDI arrangements. Villages which have gold and diamonds but lack processing plants can form village organizations to enter that space and negotiate, as the French Dominican Padre Louis-Joseph Lebret did in 1926 and as Denis Goulet did years later, presented as development ethics. The danger we have espoused and exposed is we who are supposed to be social transformers can easily wear the clothes of the west and become the new social exploiters of our people because we do not want to embrace the philosophies and values of Afrocentricity found in each African community. Together we stand, alone we fall. Africa will fail, and we shall blame G7 for exploiting Africa. But we the people with right values will rise to the occasion. Social transformers rise and transform Africa.