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