President Mokgweetsi Masisi is heading to the World Economic Forum once again for the second year running.
But the world is changing and Davos isn’t what it used to be anymore. This year it is happening on the same week as the UK-Africa investment summit. So, whether the decision to go shake hands with the political and business elite of the world in the snow instead of attending a more focused, smaller, investment focused platform is a wise choice remains to be seen. Botswana possibly lost a full decade detached from the world at head of state level and will have to play a lot of catch up at these summits.
For the past several decades, world leaders, CEOs, tech titans, billionaires, philanthropists and the like have flocked to Davos, Switzerland with the goal of “improving the state of the world.” For developing countries, the goal has always been to network and take advantage of the tons of investors in Davos and put a positive spin on the message that their countries are ripe and ready for investment.
But the conundrum with Davos is a long-standing criticism that it is a gathering of elitists. Author and Political analyst, Anand Giridharadas called it ‘a meeting of arsonists attempting to put out the fire they caused.’
Botswana Government communications said in a press statement that the trip would be coupled with ‘working visits to Belgium and France’ where the President and his delegation will ‘engage with key stakeholders in the diamond industry and the private sector on issues of strategic interest to Botswana.’
If this administration deserves credit for anything, it is their international engagement strategy and their crispy clean understanding of the global system and the shift occurring in the multilateral space. Sometimes they will get it right, and sometimes they will hit a few blanks. Davos is seen as the premier destination for business, government and civil society leaders. In addition, it is also a litmus test for gauging the direction of conversations at the intersection of technology, business, climate change, civil society and government.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zimbabwe’s President Mnangagwa will not be at Davos this year. Ramaphosa has chosen to attend the UK-Africa investment summit instead. Botswana may as well be the only country in the region with representation at head of state level. Although Masisi’s strategy and agenda isn’t clear, there are several things in that he may take away and run with.
The first is, understanding the renewal that he brings with his Presidency (possibly also a factor in his electoral victory). After 10 years of a detached Presidency in the multilateral space, Masisi’s presence will excite delegates and Botswana watchers.
The global community has always been receptive to Botswana and the country has enjoyed a great amount of goodwill. I think Masisi will find that the global community will be even more receptive to Botswana and the Botswana delegation. Given the leadership changes that occurred in the country since the end of the Khama-era, all eyes will be on what Masisi plans to do about the crippling crises of growth and unemployment the small Southern African country is experiencing. Many will look for assurances from him on initiatives to grow and diversify the economy and create sustainable jobs. Even though the Elephants debacle has subsided, Botswana’s tourism industry is still a huge moneymaker with great potential to grow further.
President Masisi’s engagements should be based on hammering out a positive message on
Botswana’s consistent commitment to economic and political stability and the predictable investment environment it provides. Luckily, Masisi has been great so far with media and investor engagements, often speaking off-piste and sticking to concise speaking points to drive the message home.
In the same breath, as the world is pondering over the upcoming U.S. elections and the risk American domestic politics pose to the world, Masisi will also have to put everyone at ease about the ongoing domestic political murmurs in the form of election petitions. While doing so, he must tread carefully and express his utmost belief and trust in key institutions responsible for resolving this impasse.
The WEF is also a chance for Masisi and many of his peers in the global south to shine. As the major economies have been taking a step back with Trump and Theresa May not attending last year, this is a chance for other developing, emerging and developed countries to take center stage and come to the fore.
But on the other hand, the administration’s lack of engagement and a targeted “Davos team” may as well cripple and undo their well-meaning appetite to succeed. The President shouldn’t have made this an all-government delegation. In order to demonstrate the growing and budding relationship between government, business, private sector, civil society and the media, a team comprising all relevant stakeholders should have been assembled to maximise on the diverse issues and opportunities that will be tackled at the Forum. Commitment to collaboration between business and government, a corruption clean up, stabilising of public institutions will make hunting down investments a worthy cause.
Essentially, the ultimate aim at Davos must be to attract inbound fixed investments, which Botswana desperately needs to bolster its economic growth potential. The challenge for the Masisi administration will be luring sustainable investment to the country and to make sure Botswana stands out as a top African investment destination especially with a looming BREXIT deal finally set to happen. A UK-SADC+1 trade deal was signed in September last year between the UK and six Southern African countries including Botswana to ensure continuity of trade relations and conditions after Brexit. The deal signed will almost be identical to the conditions that the countries currently enjoy with the European Union. Davos must also be some sort of dipstick for government in terms of taking issues like the climate crisis more seriously.
*Bakang Ntshingane is a writer and political analyst with interests in politics, foreign and trade policy