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A wrap of the World Economic Forum 2023

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The annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, has come and gone. Themed: “Co-operation in a fragmented World,” it ran from the 16-20 January.

Governments, policymakers, the private sector and civil society from all corners of the world tried to tackle key issues facing the globe, including the fallout from the Russia / Ukraine war, energy constraints, the higher cost of living, addressing climate change and ensuring food security, among many other issues.

Team South Africa was there to sell the country, in spite of its current challenges, particularly the persistent rolling blackouts.

Energy constraints in some parts of the world, especially Europe, were a key focus among delegates, with the war in Ukraine often overshadowing discussions among global players.

Leaders from some of South Africa’s biggest companies drew lessons from their counterparts in other countries.

“My takeaway is actually making sure that we go back as a country and really focus on making sure that we’ve got resilient infrastructure and things work and they serve people and that there’s delivery at a government level,” says Chief Operating Officer of FirstRand Group Mary Vilakazi.

“South African delegates were clear that they were speaking openly to their global counterparts about the challenges, but were keen to persuade potential investors that the country’s long-term prospects were good and therefore worth investing in.”

Group CEO of MTN Ralph Mupita, says a broad approach needs to be taken to tackling energy problem.

“From an SA perspective, we’re saying that we do have a challenge around energy. It’s not really an Eskom problem, it’s a national problem, but we can take a multi-sectorial approach to resolving this and we’re saying to investors ‘stay confident about SA’. South Africa has always been able to come through its challenges and we just need sometime. We have a plan to get through all of this, so we’re saying remain committed to SA,” he affirms.

Pushing the African agenda globally

At WEF, global CEOs pledged to unlock trillions of dollars for investment in the African Continental Free Trade Area. This would include a focus on the automotive sectors, agriculture, transport and logistics, among others.

Some African entrepreneurs were in Davos to ensure that the continent’s voice is heard more clearly.

Founder of Africa 2.0 Foundation, Mamadou Toure, says the civil society organisation has mobilised some serious leaders from the African diaspora to come and engage, so that people who would want to know more about the continent would find a place to come and engage.

“It’s for the members from the different countries of the continent to get together and discuss and collaborate. It’s a platform that’s just not based on discussions, it has a strong focus on action,” Toure states.

SARB

The South African Reserve Bank was also in Davos to learn from key discussions and seems cautiously optimistic about the inflation path going forward, but implicitly suggests that interest hikes are not off the table just yet.

Central banks across the globe say regulation of digital currency has been slow. Governors have been exploring the possibility of a Central Bank Digital Currency, with experts saying technology has been one of the biggest enablers of a central bank digital currency. This emerged during a panel discussion by central bank leaders from South Africa, Peru and Israel at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.

Governor of the SARB Lesetja Kganyago remarked on inflation in the country.

“We have had inflation declining for 4 consecutive months, if that trend is sustained, then we could comfortably say that we had reached the peak, but we’re not targeting the peak, we are looking for inflation to decline to the mid-point of the inflation targeting range, which is 4.5%,” he noted.

The elephant in the global room remains that of climate change, adaptation to it and mitigation thereof. Discussions on the matter took place, against the backdrop of contention among nations as some are reverting to the use of coal for energy security, when they had previously decided against it with the talk not quite matching the action.

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