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WEF Diary: Archbishop vs. Activists

WEF Diary: Archbishop vs. Activists

As those who gathered for the World Economic Forum know all too well, Africa is a place of good and bad, of great optimism and troubling realities.

And according to celebrity Archbishop Desmond Tutu, God is well aware of this too. Giving the closing remarks of the 3-day gathering of the continent’s economic and political elite, Tutu offered a rare insight into the Lord’s take on Africa. The verdict, Tutu revealed, is that He’s displeased − though being more New Testament than Old Testament, Tutu’s God is not so much full of wrath as just kind of bummed out.

“God, we see you weeping because your children can do what they are doing to one another,” said the 83-year-old Tutu in his unhurried address. “We see you weeping because infants and children die of preventable disease…We see you weeping because of the way so many of us treat women…”

Tutu reeled off a few other endemic problems about which God is shedding celestial tears, among them Boko Haram and ISIS, before then turning to the good news.

“And then,” he said, as his trademark grin gradually crept across his face, “we see a smile breaking over your face. Yes, you look down and you see the World Economic Forum… And we see a little angel wiping away your tears because the World Economic Forum says it’s going to be your partner to make your world hospitable to goodness.”

Like a pop group saving their one famous hit for the finale, WEF’s evangelical exit left the 1,250-plus angel-participants with a warm afterglow after a week of deal-making, back-patting and hand-shaking.

WEF’s staff probably felt pretty happy too with how the carefully managed event panned out. Endless panels went by with determined efficiency. Bountiful food and drink kept CEOs and ‘Young Global Leaders’ in cheery spirits. And save for a few last-minute replacement guests, the whole convention seemed to go by with barely a hiccup.

But not everyone in the vicinity was best pleased. And not everyone had faith in WEF’s disciples to go forth and cure Africa’s ills.

Down the road, a small but plucky group of protesters gathered on the conference’s final day, placards in hand. Some of them held posters which read “Stop Tax Dodgers − Save Lives” or “Stop Illicit Financial Outflows”, while others spelt out the words: FINANCE OUR FUTURE.

Many of those involved were schoolchildren, who got a little restless, meaning for a while the sign sometimes demanded that world leaders FANINCE OUR UTURE. But the general message was clear.

“Financing should be for the youth and the future,” said Ali Kiyaei, the organiser of the demonstration and Secretary-General of the United Nations Association of South Africa. “Especially in Africa, only a few drops of developmental financing goes down to the people. All of the rest stays at the top.”

This young band of #Action2015 demonstrators had intended to picket Cape Town’s Convention Centre, but had been relocated by security to a roundabout a block away. This, Kiyaei said, was a symbol of WEF’s relevance to ordinary people. He revealed that he had been one of the illustrious Young Global Leaders at a previous edition of the Forum, but now believed there were more direct and legitimate ways to address Africa’s challenges.

“Personally, I think it’s a talk show,” he said of the conference. “I’d rather be on the outside. It’s more impactful on the ground realistically than having a cocktail with some finance ministers.”

WEF might have more relevance, he said “if they actually had an open side of it and were transparent in what they’re doing”, adding “If they are actually pushing for inclusivity, I’m not seeing any action. It’s a lot of talk.”

Whether or not Kiyaei is right about the lack of action, he is certainly correct on that final point − WEF generated a lot of talk. And whether or not Tutu accurately interpreted God’s feelings about the Forum, the overall point of his closing address was also bang on the money − it’s over, until the next one.

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Written by James Wan

James Wan is editor of African Arguments. He is the former deputy editor of African Business and former Senior Editor of Think Africa Press. Follow him on Twitter at @jamesjwan.

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