CityPress - - Business -

Davos is an odd mix­ture. On the one hand, they say the world’s elite comes here to rub noses in a mu­tual-ad­mi­ra­tion so­ci­ety. Heads of com­pa­nies pay tens of thou­sands of dol­lars to trudge through the snow and slush for four days in wet shoes. Pre­miers, min­is­ters, pro­fes­sors from Har­vard, guys like Leonardo (DiCaprio, of course). As I was say­ing to him last night in the Pi­ano Bar: “Hey man, Leo…” – but let me not bore you.

On the other hand, the town of Davos Klosters is no more than a ski re­sort for middle class Swiss. Your ho­tel room is fur­nished with Ikea and knotty pine; the lo­cal cui­sine is hardly that of the Pi­galle in Nelson Man­dela Square. Rather think ra­clette and röstis, or rubber chicken.

The un­sym­pa­thetic eye may see an el­e­ment of Dis­ney­land. Turkey rented a lo­cal Angli­can church wall and pro­jected against it the star and cres­cent. On the Panorama Ho­tel, one sees Kaza­khstan ad­ver­tis­ing space age ar­chi­tec­ture (no, it ain’t Bo­rat). In­dia – per­haps the most as­tute mar­keter of re­cent years – shows a lady of charms re­clin­ing against an an­tique Hindu tem­ple, splay­ing her fin­gers while pro­claim­ing “In­cred­i­ble !ndia”.

An oc­ca­sion like this draws flaky types like bees to honey. Bono is al­ways here. This morn­ing, a man with pam­phlets in hand was stand­ing in the snow on the pave­ment, ob­struct­ing my way. “You vant hap­pi­ness?” “No thanks,” I an­swered, mean­ing the pam­phlet. “Vonderful, vonderful!” he ex­claimed. Of course, charges of elitism bring a cer­tain dis­com­fort. Ah, Davos of­fers an an­swer to that too. What about our Refugee Cen­tre un­der the Hil­ton? You walk across the lounge where peo­ple are eat­ing apfel­strudel, then de­scend by lift into the cel­lar, hand over your coat, and then – via tun­nels and rooms – you can have a “75-minute ex­pe­ri­ence” of how it feels to walk in the shoes of a Syr­ian refugee.

Usu­ally, sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa fea­tures on the agenda at Davos for one of two rea­sons: ei­ther be­cause in­vestors are in­ter­ested in us, or for hu­man­i­tar­ian is­sues. This year we’re get­ting klapped both ways: the sink­ing price of oil and min­er­als is tank­ing the economies of An­gola, Nige­ria, Zam­bia and more. South Africa had its own wob­ble.

For the mo­ment, in­vestors are not re­ally in­ter­ested in our re­gion. And on the hu­man­i­tar­ian front, refugees from north Africa and Syria are fully oc­cu­py­ing the band­width of the Euro­pean brain: peo­ple here sim­ply have no time left to think about Africa.

You may won­der why any­one both­ers to come to Davos. Com­pa­nies are here be­cause they want to learn where to in­vest: which new tech, which coun­tries. Politi­cians come here since there are nearly 200 states on the globe, and in­vest­ment funds can se­lect any one of them and move around rapidly – each coun­try thus mar­kets it­self as a desti­na­tion.

Ev­ery­one wants the jobs and tax rev­enues that for­eign in­vest­ment brings. For ex­am­ple, the shiny new lead­ers of Canada and Ar­gentina are here, and smile tele­geni­cally about free en­ter­prise: “Come in­vest with us! With us!”

This year South Africa brought a rather big del­e­ga­tion. Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma spoke on mul­ti­ple plat­forms. Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han and the gov­er­nor of the Re­serve Bank, Le­setja Kganyago, are both ex­cep­tion­ally skilled pre­sen­ters and promised that the right ac­tions would be taken.

Trade and In­dus­try Min­is­ter Rob Davies and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Ebrahim Pa­tel did their best. Heads of South African banks made sooth­ing noises. Around coffee and wine, our govern­ment and busi­ness­peo­ple (who rarely talk at home) had sev­eral pos­i­tive ex­changes.

But the fact re­mains that we are fac­ing a hor­ri­ble

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