Africa In The Alps

Published 5 years ago
Preparations Ahead Of The World Economic Forum (WEF) 2018

Fancy a cup of coffee? How about a chocolate? Or a fresh cream waffle with syrup?

These were some of the treats offered to delegates on the Davos promenade, enroute the congress center of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 31st annual meeting in January.

With temperatures plunging below -17° in Switzerland, it was hard for many to say no to the delights.


The promenade is a stretch of road where residents of the town located in the Swiss Alps, go about their everyday activities of shopping, banking and socializing.

This would be the case any other time but not in the month of January, when the high street is overhauled into one of the most important and richest in the world.

Book stores and coffee shops are shut and hired out to corporates with deep pockets.

Multinational heavyweights like Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and Tata are intent on showcasing their products to the thousands of delegates that attend the forum.


WEF is regarded the most prestigious gathering of global leaders in business, government and society, who meet each year to discuss the world’s biggest threats and ways to neutralize them.

This year’s theme was Globalisation 4.0: Shaping a New Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

What better way to tackle such a daunting task than with some steaming hot chocolate to invigorate the mind?

Back to the promenade.


The long stretch is carpeted by ice that mirrors the thick blanket of snow enveloping rooftops and walls.

Among the heavyweights battling it out to attract potential new clients, I see an African company.

It’s South Africa’s Absa bank; the only African company on the high street.

Ironically, like the promenade, which has been overhauled into a corporate marketing hunting ground, the African bank has completed its own makeover.


It was formerly known as Barclays Africa, a subsidiary of the London-based Barclays PLC.

“This year is the first time Absa comes to the World Economic Forum as a standalone entity,” the bank’s outgoing CEO Maria Ramos said.

“We’ve had a lot of our own meetings here. We’ve been able, I believe, to demonstrate that as a bank we are able to be at the cutting edge of what global financial markets are about.

“We have also demonstrated that as an African continent, not only do we have phenomenal sunshine, which we have been able to bring to Davos with technology into this fantastic space, but we’ve also got great financial institutions.”


It seemed Africa’s warmth followed relentlessly even in sub-zero climes.

Other action that took place on the sidelines of WEF included bilateral engagements between business and government.

Old Mutual CEO Peter Moyo told me of his private meeting with Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister, Mthuli Ncube.

Ncube had to lead the Zimbabwe delegation after President Emmerson Mnangagwa ditched plans to attend WEF at the eleventh hour to deal with the latest crisis in Zimbabwe.


Videos of deadly protests in Zimbabwe over the doubling of fuel prices overnight had gone viral.

“I was pleading with the Minister of Finance for him to take us into his confidence so we can actually work together with them and see how we deploy the capital that we have for the benefit of our customers and we protect value for shareholders,” Moyo said.

Old Mutual is the largest listed company on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.

For MTN CEO Rob Shuter, the sideline meetings at WEF provided a platform to deal with a crisis in Uganda with speed.

News broke that three MTN Uganda managers had been deported for allegedly compromising national security.

Shuter told me he met with Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, to address the matter.

“We had a cordial meeting. We assured [President Museveni] of MTN’s commitment to Uganda. We have been 20 years in the country and we are in the process of renewing the license,” he said.

Shuter also met with Oscar Onyema, CEO of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

I asked if this was to discuss the much-anticipated listing of MTN on Nigeria’s stock exchange but he declined to comment.

It was time for another cup of steaming hot coffee.

– The writer is a presenter-producer on CNBC Africa.

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