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Davos elitist club ignores starving Africa

January 29, 2003

DAVOS: Despite talk from officials of the World Economic Forum that the exclusive organization is moving towards openness and sharing, African officials and NGOs complained that the elitist gathering has failed them.

“Africa didn’t really shine here,” Trevor Manuel, South African minister of finance said. “I can say that Africa in fact didn’t feature at all here.”

The same message was echoed by non-governmental organizations attending this six-day meeting of the world’s top corporate executives and pro-market government officials. The activists say the event is not the “catch-all” gathering organizers says it wants to be.

“It’s clear that in the consciousness of the participants here, Africa is very much a side show,” said Kumi Naidoo secretary general of the US-based NGO, Civicus.

“As people met here everyday, some 4000 people a day were going to hospitals in Africa and dying the same day. It’s clear that at such a global level here, we appear to be fairly numb to this tragedy,” he added.

Among the many snubs Africa received here was the decision by former US President Bill Clinton not to attend a press conference on Africa on Monday to discuss the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

World Economic Forum (WEF) media officials said the US president did not give reasons for staying away.

Niall Fitzgerald, CEO of the British-Dutch food and soap company Unilever also did not participate in the conference citing other engagements, according to WEF media officials.

Even on the level of panels and discussion sessions, the main focus of the event, there were hardly any devoted to the problems or topic directly related to Africa.

From nearly 300 sessions, spread over six days, only five were devoted to Africa.

“There has been a complete dearth of panels on Africa,” said the African minister whose country is the engine behind NEPAD, an effort devised by African leaders to give Africa more say in determining its trade agenda.

South African finance minister Manuel said he would have liked to see more debates and sessions on issues that impact Africa like debt-relief, market access, health and HIV/AIDS as well as Africa’s own utilization of its resources. None of theses were on the table.

Civicus secretary general Naidoo said, among other examples of disregard of Africa at WEF is that African issues along with many problems of the developing world was the high-profile economic outlook survey in which Africa was absent.

“None of them talked about Africa,” he said referring to the economic forecast discussions. “They were all about the US and Europe. China and India were touched upon. But there was nothing about Africa.”

“It is as if Africa doesn’t exist,” Naidoo added. “This writes off a huge chunk of humanity and reduces them to mere spectators of the world economy.”

There are more than 800 million people in Africa, or 13 per cent of the world’s population. Africa’s population is expected to increase to 1.3 billion by 2020.

Only three African presidents were invited to the Davos Forum. They included Benjamin William Mkapa, President of Tanzania,. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda and Joaquim Alberto Chissano, President of Mozambique.

The Forum is a by-invitation-only event, even with top officials, said South African finance minister Manuel. No African leader “could have just said ‘oh, I feel like going to Davos today,” he said.

Even on the level of panelists, there were hardly any from the so-called black continent discussing some of the themes of the forum like business, global governance, and values.

Manuel, who looked frustrated at a press conference later in the day, however, said that Africa should keep trying to get commitments from countries of the North and ‘northern’ organizations like the World Economic Forum, especially in relation to NEPAD.

“Keep the faith,” he said. “African heads of states will continue meeting and they will keep heads of states from the North committed.”

He said that African heads of state would be meeting in March to finalize concrete steps towards the implementation of NEPAD requirements like a peer-review mechanism, increasing inter-Africa trade and broadening of participation from different sectors of African society.—Dawn/The Guardian News Service.