The annual World Economic Forum in Davos has always had an air of exclusivity as a gathering of the worlds most powerful from business, politics, academia and non-governmental organizations. The event is an invitation-only annual meeting held in January which happens to be one of Switzerland’s coldest months.
One had never really followed this event until a few years ago when there emerged from it the narrative about socially-inclusive models of economic growth and development. Given the nature of my work and our church’s involvement with the socially excluded, that narrative grabbed my imagination. In the last few years, progressive world leaders have been grappling with the question of how countries can make use of policies and institutional mechanisms in order to widen social inclusion in the process and benefits of economic growth.
A world where large sections of the population are excluded from main economic activities is not a sustainable one. In South Africa the debate for socially-inclusive models of economic growth is once again being debated – with some calling it radical economic growth and others calling it inclusive growth. The debate is sometimes polarizing but whatever we call these models, we should not commit the mistake of shouting down people simply because we do not agree with their thinking.
For this reason, and whatever the flaws of the WEF, one has come to appreciate the value of the debates and issues that get raised at this forum. I would, though, wish to see diverse perspectives being debated at the WEF. Currently, it does come across as a gathering of largely like-minded people. Secondly, one would like to see the voices of the marginalized being mainstreamed into the deliberations. The protests by civil society groups outside the WEF conference venue accentuate the sense of “them” and “us”. Attempts must be made, maybe before the WEF meeting starts, to hold a civil society version of it who recommendations can be mainstreamed into the main event.
Thirdly, one would like to see more peer review and cross-country benchmarking coming from the WEF. For what good is it that countries would attend this forum but go back home to implement the same policies and strategies that have caused them to stagnate? Indeed, what good is it to talk about socially-inclusive growth but without seeing any meaningful change in the material conditions of the poor – who are the majority in the world?
It was with this in mind that I followed the WEF Africa which our country hosted in Durban last week. I am all for the regional versions of the WEF – not everything should revolve around d Europe – because each and every region has its own unique dynamics which Davos may not fully appreciate or do justice to during its deliberations. However, as alluded above, what should be of critical importance even to the African version is a comparative illustration of performance of countries on the continent?
Countries must be subjected to scrutiny on how they are implanting policies and good practices. Indeed, they must hold each other accountable if these WEF forums are going to add value. Indeed, one can again ask, at the risk of sounding rhetorical, as to what good it is for countries on the continent to attend the WEF Africa but without demonstrating any keenness to try out the ideas, policies and good practices that are discussed during the forum?
This holding each other accountable must be a practical reality. There was a demonstration of it last week, though at a personal level, when former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel sought to hold the chairman of Eskom Dr Ben Ngubane accountable over allegations of corruption at the power utility. Manuel, participating in a panel on corruption, made it known that he was unhappy about the non-suspension of Eskom’s acting chief executive officer Matshela Koko over allegations of conflict of interest. Awkward as that situation might have been, it took that session out of the realm of theory into the real world. Citizens want to see leaders holding each other accountable at these kind of forums. Otherwise they become mere talk shops.
Where Manuel showed courage in questioning the leader of a state owned entity, the same could not be said about those who attended the session on fragile nations where Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe made an appearance. Mugabe denied that his country is fragile, arguing that the United States of America is the one that is fragile. For his outrageous remarks and denialism about his country, Mugabe should have been taken on and confronted with the facts. Failure to confront Mugabe by the leaders who attended his session is a shame to say the least.
As long as poverty , inequality , unemployment continue to rise and lack of accountability by leaders these forums will remain meaning less to ordinary people who are looking for something tangible that will change and improves their lives.
In conclusion, holding leaders accountable should not be confined to the public sector.
PASTOR RAY McCAULEY IS THE PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY CHURCHES AND CO-CHAIR OF NATIONAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS COUNCIL (NRLC)