Critics of globalism and capitalism have continually raised questions about the relevance of the World Economic Forum (WEF) established by Professor Klaus Schwab in 1971 originally as the European Management Forum; it later became the World Economic Forum in 1987, with Davos, in Switzerland as its home – a forum for addressing the urgent issues facing the world and seeking answers to define a pathway to the future. The very idea that a selected gang of the rich and the elite of the world, drawn from the public and private sectors and subsequently from civil society, would sit around for a few days, and pretend to lead the world to the future, in an all-knowing manner, without the poor, the world’s vast majority being at the table is a major source of objection by the anti-globalists who in addition insist that every nation has its own peculiar interests that cannot be subsumed under a global agenda. The WEF 2024 was held 14 – 19 January 2024, in Davos. I was there as part of the Arise News Team of correspondents covering the conference – my fourth or fifth time in Davos, having been there yearly during my tour of duty as Presidential Spokesperson for Nigeria.
Whatever may be the ideological objections of those who stayed away from this year’s event, the relevance of the WEF as a conference where important conversations about the human condition take place, was not in any way diminished. In addition to the natural conscientious objectors, that is the traditional nay-sayers, Turkey boycotted this year’s conference- President Recep Erdogan having instructed his Minister of Finance not to go anywhere near Davos because the place would be full of pro-Israel and anti-Palestine ideologues. Russia was also absent, perhaps understandably. Over 2, 000 Russian elites are banned from going near Europe, having been declared as persona non grata in the Eurozone. The last time Russia attended was in 2021, before the Ukrainian invasion of 2021, and that was virtually. But China was all over the place, with a large delegation led by Prime Minister Li Qiang, looking for finance, trade and commerce. India was also conspicuously present, setting up an India House at the Davos Promenade, erecting banners and messages by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at chosen spots. The Indians were looking for the same things as the Chinese.
Overall, the attendance was rich, the organization was clock-work efficient, the people of Davos did not stand in the way of the over 2, 800 persons from more than 60 countries who attended this year’s conference. Every January, Davos offers a delightful experience to its visitors: an opportunity for knowledge, ideas and interaction, and a memorable vacation for those who enjoy skiing on the Swiss Alps. I have never found the weather delightful though: snow-capped skyline, bitterly cold weather – during the week, we had to survive a range of -4 to -11; at one point my right hand was frozen. I shivered. It was as if I had been placed inside a deep refrigerator. All that talk about global warming, please Davos was so cold and harsh, like a scene from T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. Nonetheless, WEF/DAVOS 2024 deserves special praise for the efforts of Professor Klaus Schwab and his partners. They delivered, characteristically. The theme for this year’s conference was “Rebuilding Trust”- which seems to be a continuation of the. theme for WEF 2022 viz: “Working Together: Restoring Trust”. The theme is further broken down into four sub-themes: (a) Achieving security and co-operation in a fractured world, (b) Creating growth and jobs for a new era (c) Artificial intelligence as a driving force for the economy and society and (d) A long-term strategy for climate, nature, and energy. Under the umbrella of multi-stakeholder capitalism, the organizers of the conference sought to draw attention to the basics to improve conversations about -principles of transparency, accountability and collective agency forged through research, alliances and frameworks that drive co-operation and partnerships.
Indeed, a. prominent theme at this year’s conference was the urgent need to rebuild trust among the nations of the world, against the backdrop of geo-political and economic tensions and the issues were well covered in the various conversations- the Russian-Ukraine war, Israel vs Hamas, and the escalating tensions in the Middle East, from the Red Sea, to Lebanon and Iran and the implications for global trade and peace; climate change issues, the sustainability of the planet, debt issues, North-South schisms, the positive and negative sides of Artificial Intelligence – a great moment in human history and how to prevent it from becoming “the next Hiroshima” through caution and regulation. Most countries of the world are struggling with high levels of unemployment and debt. What is the best people-centric strategy for the world?
As expected, there was ample focus on the need to build co-operation and collaboration in a fragmented world. I am not sure there was any consensus reached on that subject. The leaders of the world left the Conference not anywhere any decision that the world can become united or that peace is guaranteed. Turkey and Russia had dismissed the conference on the grounds of trust. Argentina’s President Javier Milei who spoke at the conference advised world leaders to embrace “free enterprise capitalism” as the only solution to poverty, and must avoid socialist ideas about trying to save the world. UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres at the conference attended by at least 27 fossil fuel companies, including Shell, Aramco, and BP accused the same multinationals of sheer hypocrisy and dubious, murky conduct with regard to greenhouse gas emissions. The last man had not yet left Davos-Klosters when Guterres’s concern was confirmed. Last Friday, Exxon Mobil sued two of its investors at a US District Court in Texas- Follow This and Arjuna Capital – to prevent the climate activists from seeking a contrarian vote at its annual shareholder meeting on 29 March. But the matter about trust was settled finally, I think, when Israeli President Isaac Herzog showed up. He said pointedly that Israel can never trust Hamas, or Palestine terror and that what the world is dealing with is not Israel vs Hamas but the world versus an empire of evil backed by Iran. He wants Israeli hostages released. Israel rejects a two-state solution. Herzog says Saudi Arabia should normalize relations with Israel as a way to peace. Saudi Arabia gives peace in Gaza as a condition and has not shown any willingness to embrace Israel. Qatar, Jordan, and Iraq leaders speaking at Davos were also pro-Palestine.
However, DAVOS 2024 provided an opportunity for the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky to present his case to the world. In the event of the escalating crisis in the Middle East, the world had almost forgotten about Ukraine. Zelensky showed up to ask the allies not to forget Ukraine and the need to pile more pressures on Russia. The war in Ukraine dominated discussions. Zelensky got commitments from the global and political elite – US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, US Foreign Secretary, Antony Blinken, EU Commission’s Ursula von der Leyen, and global business elite, JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon – all promising that Ukraine will be refinanced and supported. The Middle East also of course dominated discussions, with pro-Palestine countries calling for peace and an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. Leaders at WEF/DAVOS 2024 thought a re-set of the global architecture was possible, something in the nature of a Grand Redesign. Hence, discussions around climate change focused on how to sustain the planet- the biodiversity, water, climate finance/ adaptation, clean energy. The world is imperiled with temperatures racing close to a 2.8 increase in temperatures in the face of dubious greenwashing. DAVOS 2024 was meant to follow up on commitments made at COP 28 in Dubai. I don’t think much progress was made in this regard.
But there were national commitments and promises as usual. World leaders were genuinely anxious about the possibility of Donald Trump returning as US President in November 2024, now that he got 51% at Iowa, and he is set to win at New Hampshire, which would make him the presumptive Republican candidate for the 2024 US Presidential election. Trump is the very opposite of what the globalists stand for. He preaches America First in every circumstance. He had pulled America out of the Paris Climate Agreement, he also threatened to pull America out of NATO, and now he says he can resolve the Russian-Ukraine war in 24 hours. It is certain that he will go against Ukraine and support Russia. It is also certain that his return may prove chaotic for the world. US Business leaders seemed non-plussed in Davos, arguing that the US has enough checks and balances to put Trump in check if he wins. The reality is that out of about 50 elections in year 2024 worldwide, the one that poses the biggest threat is that of the US and that is because of Trump! At Davos, French President Emmanuel Macron talked about Europe becoming more self-assertive through financial integration, Ursula von de Leyen talked about the future of Europe, African leaders – Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Nana Akuffo-Addo of Ghana, and VP Kashim Shettima of Nigeria made a strong case for foreign investments in Africa as partners and collaborators.
Artificial intelligence also dominated the conference. It is positively responsible for the world’s biggest current disruptions, but how can it be prevented from becoming another Hiroshima? Big tech was on full display at Davos Promenade. But what is the future? Not blockchain. But AI. North-South schism and threats to global trade and how to create economic growth in emerging economies and underserved countries formed part of the conversation. There were concerns as well about global economic growth, unemployment, the role of banks and debt burdens. International media covered the narratives pretty well and the Davos organizers did a good job of providing free snacks and beverages for the media, upstairs at the Registration Centre.
Nigeria did well at the Conference, I can confidently report. Nigeria was at Davos with a pruned down delegation of five persons led by Vice President Kashim Shettima. There were other Nigerians there of course including Ministers, but they were there on their own accord, not part of the Presidential delegation. I had the opportunity of interviewing Senator Shettima, Nigeria’s VP and at the end of the interview, he asked if the Arise TV crew could travel with him back to Nigeria because his aircraft was empty. He was even the one who declined on our behalf. He eventually said it would not be a good idea. We could not have accepted the offer anyway. We had our own travel arrangements, but it was good to see for the first time that Nigeria, after President Tinubu’s slash of official entourages could travel light to a foreign event. There were other Nigerian officials but they seemed sensible enough not to travel with wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, relatives and concubines. This is a good signal but the Tinubu administration needs to do a lot more if it is serious about plugging leakages and wastages.
VP Kashim Shettima was at the private sector event on how to scale up the African economy – the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCFTA) and opportunities for integration. He also spoke at a session on how to Restore Faith in the Global System. He held meetings on the sidelines with world leaders. He was generally all over the place selling Nigeria, delivering President Bola Tinubu’s message to the world. Being a former banker, he understood the language of the Forum and delivered on the registers. My first direct, physical encounter with him in Davos was at the Nigeria Roundtable on Wednesday, January 17. It was Nigeria’s main moment at the conference, beyond the other conversations. Shettima was accompanied by Wale Edun, Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Yusuf Tuggar, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hannatu Musawa, Minister of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, Mrs. Aisha Rimi, Executive Secretary, Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC), Minister of State, Oil and Gas, Heineken Lokpobiri; Olusegun Awolowo, Secretary, National Action Committee on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and Dr Femi Ademiluyi, National Coordinator of the National Talent Export Programme. I thought the Nigerian session on Business, designed to attract investor confidence went very well indeed. VP Shettima who chaired the event, told his audience: “Nigeria is the sleeping giant of Africa; it has woken up to shake the world”. He said “Welcome to Nigeria. Come to Nigeria, Believe in Nigeria.” Shettima has the gift of the garb. He sounded persuasive at that event that was attended by business leaders from Indorama, Bayern Leverkusen, Airtel, Futama, Cocacola, Manchester United, Standard Bank Group, and from the local front, Wale Tinubu of Oando, Adesola Adedutan of First Bank, Hassan Oye-Odukale of Leadway Assurance/FBN and a host of others.
My next encounter with VP Shettima was at the Nigeria Night, organized by the Ministry of Creative Economy at the foyer of the Congress Hall. What a night! Glorious. Good for Nigeria. I watched VP Shettima putting up his best show that I had yet witnessed. Earlier in the day, he had quoted Napoleon Bonaparte to start his conversation. At the Nigerian Night, within a space of 30 minutes, he quoted a Chinese proverb, John Donne, Chinua Achebe, Ali Mazrui, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Thabo Mbeki, without looking at a sheet of paper. Then he danced to Nigerian music along with DJ Obi, providing music, and the likes of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and the current Ministers twerking in glorious celebration of Nigeria. Oh, what a night! Professor Klaus Schwab joined us. Ghanaian President was also there. He arrived just after an international community had demolished Nigerian jollof and pepper soup generously provided by Nigeria’s Ministry of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy. Putting Nigeria on the world stage at Davos was a good initiative. Davos is a mix of everything: politics, culture, diversity, entertainment, entrepreneurship, innovation, culture, the scarcity of accommodation and a harsh weather! Other Nigerian public figures that I learnt were in Davos included Senators Jimoh Ibrahim, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Inter-Parliamentary Affairs, and Abdulaziz Yari, Senate Chairman on Water Resources, Senator Bassey Otu, Governor of Cross Rivers State, and Governor Dauda Lawal of Zamfara State who all stayed away from the Nigerian community for reasons best known to them.
I had a one-on-one interview with Senator Kashim Shettima the following day for Arise News. He was absolutely brilliant. He should be allowed to attend more of such international engagements. He is well chosen. He is smart. He can talk. He makes an effort to dance. He is all round-confident.
Reuben Abati is a host of the Morning Show on Arise Television. He was the spokesperson and special adviser, media and publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan (2011 – 2015). A former chairman of the editorial board of The Guardian, Dr. Abati is one of the most respected columnists in Nigeria. He writes his syndicated column twice a week. He tweets from @abati1990.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer.