Insights from WEF Davos 2024: Global Dialogues and Implications for Africa

Articles & Insights

January 21, 2024

Davos 2024

The recently concluded World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos emerged as a pivotal forum where global leaders, policymakers, and practitioners engaged in thought-provoking discussions on critical issues with far-reaching implications. Among the multifaceted dialogues, significant attention was drawn to geopolitical conflicts, particularly the tensions between Ukraine and Russia, and Israel and Palestine. The geopolitical maneuvering and attempts to align with different regions have profound implications for Africa’s regionalism landscape, notably in the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The ripple effects of these conflicts were thoroughly examined, shedding light on their impact on various regions, including the intricate dynamics within Africa. This scrutiny presented a perspective for the nations on the African Continent to reassess their regional affiliations in the face of shifting alliances and power balances resulting from these global conflicts. What was clear, was that the current international dispensation, is one of a multi-polar world. A noteworthy parallel was drawn during a conversation with Antony Blinken, the United States Secretary of State, where the interviewer likened these conflicts to a push for regionalization, with Ukraine seeking alignment with the West and Israel with the East. How about Africa?

The prevailing theme throughout these discussions emphasized the interconnected nature of global events and how conflicts in one part of the world reverberate across others, particularly affecting vulnerable regions in Africa, specifically the Horn of Africa. Experts delved into potential spillover effects and underscored the importance of nuanced policies to address geopolitical challenges, ensuring stability within Africa. These dialogues also highlighted the need to advance the regionalization agenda in Africa.

In a notable session, key figures including Minister Enoch Godongwana (Finance, South Africa), Minister Ebrahim Patel (Trade, Industry and Competition, South Africa), and Wamleke Mene (Secretary-General, AfCFTA Secretariat) outlined three driving agendas: strengthening South/South partnerships for common development, expanding the National Development Bank, and reforming Multilateral Institutions. Rwanda, led by President Kagame stressed on the need to see African states as Partners, with the reform to the multilateral organizations, topping his presentation. These ideas were further strengthened by Dr. Okonjo-Iweala from the World Trade Organization (WTO), who shared indications of an increased intra-trading engagement between the South/South of upto 25% in 2022 from less than 10% in 1995. This is an indication new realization of trade within the South and the growth of a new power block within Africa, a diminishing share of North/North trade, and a stagnant North/South trade, points to the need to pull together as Africa to resolve the challenges it faces.

Despite Africa’s significant demographic and economic contributions, challenges persist, such as the dependence on over 42 different currencies and competing national policies impacting intra-continental trade. To address these challenges, the AfCFTA for example is actively working on a continental development strategy, concluding protocols on digital trade and women, youth, and trade, with legally binding obligations to transition from aspirations to tangible opportunities.

While trade was featured in almost all conversations, Artificial Intelligence (AI) emerged as a focal point, exploring its escalating presence and implications for productivity globally. Participants engaged in insightful dialogues on harnessing AI for sustainable development, acknowledging its potential to drive innovation and economic growth. However, concerns were raised by United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding the rise of super-empowered groups through General AI (Gen-AI), capable of causing extraordinary disruption.

From the presentations, the forthcoming wave of elections in 2024 introduces the looming threat of the malicious use of AI to influence electoral outcomes, prompting countries around the globe, but more so in Africa, to proactively address potential risks. Challenges include AI-driven disinformation campaigns, voter suppression, and manipulation. To mitigate these risks, strengthening media literacy programs, investing in content verification tools, and establishing robust regulatory frameworks remain imperative.

However, these imperatives are further curtailed by a new paper from Kristalina Georgieva from the International Monetary Fund who documents that while almost 40 percent of global employment is exposed to AI, only 26% has AI exposure in low-income countries. This means that many of these countries don’t have the infrastructure or skilled workforce to harness the benefits of AI, raising the risk that over time the technology could worsen inequality among nations. In most scenarios, AI will likely worsen overall inequality, a troubling trend that policymakers must proactively address to prevent the technology from further stoking social tensions. It is crucial for countries to establish comprehensive social safety nets and offer retraining programs for vulnerable workers. In doing so, we can make the AI transition more inclusive, protecting livelihoods and curbing inequality.

While recognizing the challenges posed by AI, discussions also highlighted the emerging challenge of AI’s contribution to climate change. The data-intensive nature of AI processes may make it the largest contributor to climate change, presenting a critical concern as global commitments. Most global businesses like Microsoft, are now thinking of next-generation nuclear reactors to power its data centers and AI ambitions. Even so, it could also open up a whole new can of worms when it comes to handling radioactive waste and building up a uranium supply chain. The role nuclear energy ought to play in combating climate change is still hotly debated. The potential widening of the divide between developed and developing nations emphasizes the need for collective resilience in African nations.

Collective resilience extends to sustainable development goals, overall investments, and particularly health systems. The exponential growth of data in health systems, coupled with innovations in AI, emphasizes the necessity of strategic investments in healthcare. Bill Gates emphasized the urgency of prioritizing health systems in international development efforts, citing diminishing donor funds.

In conclusion, WEF Davos 2024 provided a platform for robust discussions that resonated strongly with the Horn of Africa. The outcomes underscore the imperative for strategic policy making, technology integration, health system investments, and diplomatic foresight in navigating the intricate challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. The insights gathered are crucial for policymakers, practitioners, and development partners as they collaboratively shape the future landscape of Africa.