PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa will mark his first appearance at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland in a fortnight’s time, presidential spokesman, George Charamba told The Financial Gazette yesterday.
Mnangagwa’s invitation to attend the elite summit is a significant step towards Zimbabwe’s reintergration into the international community.
His predecessor, former President Robert Mugabe, never made it to the annual summit, although he attended a regional WEF meeting in Durban last year.
Described as the world’s most high powered networking event, the WEF takes place in the resort town in the Swiss Alps from January 23 to 26, and is expected to bring together more than 3 000 members of the global elite, drawn from politics, business and academia.
Among those who will attend the WEF are journalists and columnists, Hollywood celebrities, researchers, corporate chief executive officers, global tycoons, and some Heads of State.
“The President has an invitation from Mr Klaus Schwab to attend Davos,” Charamba told The Financial Gazette.
“We are busy preparing for the forum right now. Mr Mnangagwa is going to Davos representing Zimbabwe,” said Charamba, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services.
Referencing Mnangagwa’s stated commitment to avoid travel to countries where diplomats or lower level officials could be sent at reduced cost, Charamba said the president was going to meet high-level investors.
“That is not delegated because it is an interface between the investment community and Heads of State and Governments,” Charamba said.
Economist John Robertson said the WEF is an opportunity for Mnangagwa to present Zimbabwe’s investment case to the world.
He said Davos presents a rare chance for the President to rebuild Zimbabwe’s bad image.
“People have an image of Zimbabwe that is low at the moment,” Robertson said.
“He will have the opportunity to change this image. Countries like Rwanda have successfully done that. If the people around him keep his diary well, he will have an opportunity to speak to the world’s leaders and establish ground for future engagement. He has to impress, if he impresses, his stature will grow,” said Robertson.
Davos will be the first major global economic conference that Mnangagwa will attend as President.
He took over as President in November last year following a dramatic military intervention that led to the resignation of former president Robert Mugabe, blamed by many for crippling a once prosperous economy.
Top on Mnangagwa’s agenda has been establishing policies to rebuild an economy that has declined by over 50 percent since 2000 and continues to confront headwinds including cash shortages and firm closures.
Several challenges within the economy require his urgent attention, and his to-do list has been growing by the day as Zimbabweans, including industrialists, present their problems.
“Both domestic and foreign investment is key for the growth of the economy,” the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries said in a letter to the President in December.
“There is need for confidence building measures especially in the financial sector in order to attract local investors. For foreign investment, the major cloud hanging is the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act. There is need to urgently bring clarity; and key issues that investors look at are fairness, the return on investment, and investor protection,” it said.
And if he fails to resolve them, the problems could continue to propel the economy down the abyss.
Zimbabwe’s manufacturing sector has virtually collapsed and a poor infrastructure network requires billions of dollars in new investment.
Tourist arrivals have remained subdued due to hostile policies under his predecessor, while the mainstay agricultural sector remains undermined by lack of finance and equipment to till vast tracts of farmland that have been taken over by indigenous Zimbabwe under the controversial agrarian reforms of 2000.
Hospitals are in distress and schools and universities are underfunded, while sanitation is deteriorating due to poor funding.
Mnangagwa hopes to leverage on his interactions with the world’s investment community and other leaders to build the foundation on which Zimbabwe would attract capital to reverse the problems that have been undermining overall socio-economic development.
Founded in 1971 by Schwab, a German economics professor, the forum has become an annual meeting that includes dinners and over 400 panel discussion sessions, largely about world social and economic trends.
Officially, it is an academic conference; unofficially it is a global meeting for the rich and powerful.
The WEF is dominated by the private sector, but also attracts world leaders who use it as an avenue to hold bilateral discussions.