Every year, government and business leaders congregate in Davos Switzerland to discuss business under the so-called World Economic Forum (WEF). Many African leaders like to also go there to beg and court some investors. They spend much money and time travelling and staying in luxurious hotel in Davos. What do African countries get from this business symposium apart from being dined and wined by business people who end up getting good deals from them which are however bad deals to their people?
Tanzania’s former presidents, Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete liked to attend these summits but their participation yielded little in investment. President John Magufuli is hard pressed to declare some of the investment agreements null and void and craft new ones that’ll benefit Tanzanians. The Davos policies favour investors; and are a contributing factor to why the gap between rich and poor countries is growing wider and wider. Arguably, multinational corporations have more power than politicians whom they dine and wine with. According to a recent Oxfam Report, “The world’s 62 richest billionaires have as much wealth as the bottom half of the world's population.” This may show us how rich people become richer and richer sometimes at the expense of poor people especially where corruption, bad and poor governance are the norms.
In Tanzania, investors enjoy five-year-tax holiday. When the first five years of tax holiday come to an end, the same companies or bodies that enjoyed five years of trading without paying tax change their names; and get more five-year-tax holiday. When the famous Kilimanjaro hotel was privatized, it kept on changing names every five years. The same applies to another five-star hotel Sheraton all in downtown Dar es Salaam. They both kept on changing names every five years. After oiling the hands of politicians and other bigwigs in ministries responsible for business and investment, investors get carte blanche to operate in poor even rich countries as they please. They pay their workers low salaries compared to what they produce. Business people, especially in poor and corrupt countries, sometimes decide who should become president. They finance elections not to mention to manipulate the whole corrupt political system.
In Kenya, during Moi’s corrupt regime, for example, businessmen who happened to be con men and criminals such as Kamlesh Pattni who invented Goldenberg were treated with more respect than many politicians. Kamlesh was the government within a government. Oxfam’s reports goes on saying that, “The top 62 saw their net worth rise by more half a trillion dollars between 2010 and 2015, while the 3.6 billion people in the bottom half of the heap lost a trillion dollars.” Where did this money go in this game chaperoned by globalization all aimed at benefiting Western countries at the detriment of poor countries that have never been treated equally and equitably in world markets and trades?
In 2013, in South Africa, the Gupta brothers poked a hole on President Jacob Zuma’s government after they used a military base to land their private jet that went to South Africa to deliver party goers from India. Jeff Radebe, South African Justice Minister –in trying to cool down the anger at the time –was quoted by the Global Post as saying, “Our particular concern is that the aircraft was carrying international passengers who do not fit the category of government officials or VIPs on official duty.” Since then, nobody has ever faced the music for compromising national security. Who would take on the president’s business partners that the Gupta brothers are?
The Oxfam report has some recommendations on how to bridge the gap between the poor: pay workers a living wage, protect the workers ‘right to unionize; end the gender pay gap, promote equal inheritance and land rights for women; minimize the power of big business and lobbyists nongovernment’s; shift the tax burden away from labor and consumption and towards wealth and capital gains, and use public spending to tackle inequality. Additionally, one may argue that bridging the gap between the poor and rich countries will never make any sense if all the obstacles Western and rich countries imposed on poor country in trade are not pulled down. So, too, there must be efforts and plans to address the colonial legacy.
Suffice it to say, if Africans equip themselves with arguments to defend Africa's position vis-à-vis the current exploitative and unfair international trade regime, WEF would make sense. Africa doesn't need handouts but partnership in business and exchange of skills, technology and resources. Africa needs fair trade based on equality and equity but not horse-joker footing.
Source: African Executive Magazine, Jan., 27, 2016.