World Economic Forum: What's in it for Africa this year?

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  • Although President Cyril Ramaphosa will not going Davos for the World Economic Forum, South Africa will be the most represented African country there.
  • Exploration on how global business can work with the African Continental Free Trade Area is expected at the forum.
  • DRC President Felix Tshisekedi has the opportunity to highlight Africa's place in electricity vehicle manufacturing.

The first big global meeting that brings together leaders from government, business, and civil society to address the state of the world and discuss priorities, the World Economic Forum (WEF), kicks off this week in Davos, Switzerland.

The most represented country from Africa is South Africa, despite President Cyril Ramaphosa's last-minute withdrawal to attend to the energy crisis at home.

According to the guest list, the United States (US) will make up 27.2% of the population of attendees, followed by the host nation, Switzerland, with 9.6% and the United Kingdom with 9.1%.

Europe's biggest economy, Germany, will make up 4.3% of the roster, while South Africa will take up 1.9%.

The 53rd forum will be held under the theme "Cooperation in a Fragmented World" - an agenda that has captured the world since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

It comes at a time when leaders are struggling to return global politics and economics to a rules-based system, and China's rivalry.

China's vice-premier, Liu He, will attend.

But what's in the forum for Africa?

News24 spoke exclusively to Chido Munyati, head of Africa and a global leadership fellow at the WEF.

Lenin Ndebele: What should African leaders attending the WEF expect this year, particularly in terms of investment opportunities from the west?

Munyati: At the last annual meeting in May, the forum launched the Forum Friends of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) – an initiative aimed at mobilising global business to support the implementation of the AfCFTA. And this week, in collaboration with the AfCFTA secretariat, the forum will launch the first ever report on how global business can accelerate the implementation of the AfCFTA.

The report aims to provide a pathway for global businesses and investors to understand the biggest trends, opportunities, and strategies to successfully invest and achieve high returns in Africa, developing local, subregional, and continental value chains and accelerating industrialisation, all of which go hand in hand with the success of the AfCFTA.

The examples shared by Agility, the Africa Finance Corporation, Coca-Cola, DP World, Menzies Aviation, Novartis, OCP Group, the United Bank for Africa, Volkswagen, and Yara provide a framework for attracting investments into the region.

Ndebele: This year's theme is "Cooperation in a Fragmented World." What does this mean for African delegations?

Munyati: In general, it means that Africa will be impacted by the ongoing geo-economic fragmentation occurring in Europe and in other regions, which could magnify the growth slowdown we are currently experiencing. Notably, prior to the [Covid-19] pandemic, Africa had the fastest-growing economies in the world. However, this is no longer the case. Unless these systemic and interconnected risks are addressed, the promise of an "Africa Century" may become a decade of uncertainty and fragility.

Ndebele: Will the impact of the war in Ukraine and its impact on Africa come under focus?

Munyati: Over the last two years, staple food prices in sub-Saharan Africa have surged by an average of over 20 percent. 

So, the impact of the war in Ukraine is certainly a concern. Notably, Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of food commodities such as wheat and soybeans, and the disruption of these supplies has exacerbated food insecurity across the region. However, at the annual meeting, the focus of the discussions will be on strengthening Africa's food systems. With 60 percent of the world's uncultivated land, Africa has the potential to be a major player in global food security.

Ndebele: Africa is rich in natural resources [and in] Davos, one of the most sought-after minerals from the continent is lithium. For countries with huge deposits, what kind of deals should they expect from international partners?

Munyati: The AfCFTA is a framework for the region's green energy transition — by promoting green industries and trade-related policies. Indeed, investment in lithium-ion battery manufacturing on the continent should be a priority. By shifting battery manufacturing downstream to where many of the critical inputs are sourced, such as to the DRC, where 70% of the global cobalt supply is produced, the region can become a critical hub in the global supply chain for electric vehicles.

During his participation week, President Félix Tshisekedi (of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) will likely highlight these opportunities.

* The WEF is funded by its 1 000-member companies, typically global enterprises with more than R87.5 billion (about US$ 5 billion) in turnover. It runs from today (Monday) until 20 January. 

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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