Davos offers window for Zim

Donald Trump's decision this week to attend the forum in Davos makes the meeting even more vital for Africa and the developing world. A year ago, the president's plan to revive coal was seen as a joke. Now, with ever more countries on board, it's a global reality that could bring electricity to millions. Emmerson Mnangagwa will be there too, and the question is whether Zimbabwe can find a way in.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

With less than two weeks until the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, a gulf has emerged that could signal a coup for US president Donald Trump.

For nearly half a century, global leaders have met at the Swiss resort to map out policy.

This year, International Monetary Fund boss, Christine Lagarde and her colleagues from the World Bank will defend their halt on funding for oil and gas along with an existing ban on coal, but Africa and Asia show no sign of backing away from fossil fuel.

On Wednesday, the White House announced that Mr Trump would attend the summit, the first US president to do so while in office. He will be accompanied by secretary of state for energy, Rick Perry under the theme, “America first does not mean America alone.” Mr. Perry has led the Trump campaign for a clean-coal alliance.

Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Thursday he would also be in Davos, the first Zimbabwean leader to join the talks.

India, one of Washington’s closest allies, has spoken in favour of Mr Trump’s pact of nations that will continue to use coal to generate electricity, but with the latest clean technology that brings down emissions to levels set out by the Paris accord on climate change.

Between them, India and Africa have close on a billion people still living off the grid.

Davos will be the first global meeting of government, business and academics since Robert Mugabe stepped down in November. Staff from Zimbabwe’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva are expected to support President Mnangagwa at the forum, though analysts say little new investment is likely until after the general election due later this year.

Zimbabwe, once a leader in power generation has a shortfall of electricity after years of neglect. But it also has the world’s largest dam at Kariba and some of Africa’s biggest coal reserves.

In November, at a UN climate meeting in Germany, David Banks — Mr Trump’s senior advisor on energy — said the US would, “embrace like-minded countries to make America the partner of choice for clean fossil fuel.”

Mr Banks unveiled plans for a clean-coal group covering all six continents with members including China, Indonesia, Japan, India and Poland.

Rick Perry echoed the call, saying the joblessness that stemmed from absent or unreliable power lay at the root of poverty, migration and young men joining militia groups.

The planned alliance ropes in Nigeria, South Africa, Botswana and Tanzania and, with the US and Latin America, could cover 60 per cent of the world’s population.

Despite difficult relations between Harare and Washington, the size of Zimbabwe’s coal reserves would be difficult to exclude the country. President Mnangagwa has pledged to rebuild relations with Europe, Britain and the United States.

Divided views

Mr Trump made resurrection of the coal industry a key plank in his 2016 run for president. Since his inauguration a year ago, the world price has risen, unemployment in the US is at a 16-year low, and the White House has signed off billions for research on how to burn fossil fuel with low emissions.

The president has made hundreds of references to clean coal in his tweets and speeches and there is speculation he may include it in his first State of the Union address due on 30 January.

The European Union is divided.

Britain and France are committed to reducing the use of fossil fuel. But the Netherlands is the world’s largest importer of US coal while Poland has increased consumption and, without it, Finland’s winter heating would depend on a single gas pipeline from Russia.

South Africa and Tanzania have been especially critical of the World Bank ban on funding for projects using coal. Both countries are expanding their use.

Mozambique has the world’s fourth-largest coal mine at Moatize, and East Africa has an estimated five billion tons in the ground.

Nigerian finance minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, who will attend the Davos meeting, has long put her views on record.

Mrs Adeosun says it is hypocritical for developed countries to criticise Africa when their own economies were built on generations of coal.

Like Zimbabwe, Nigeria has an electricity shortfall, and former power minister Chenidu Nebo is equally clear.

“I think Africa should be allowed to develop its coal potential,” he told Scientific American magazine. “There are so many areas in Africa where that will help to generate power for over 60 percent of Africans who have no access to energy at all”

In Dar es Salaam, energy and minerals minister, Sospeter Muhongo was blunt.

“We in Africa should not even be in discussion of whether we use coal or not. In my country of Tanzania, we are going to use our natural resources.”

For the first time in his presidency, Jacob Zuma will not attend WEF. South Africa will be represented by vice president and ruling party boss, Cyril Ramaphosa.

India plans its largest-ever delegation, led by prime minister Narendra Modi who will be among the first group of speakers before flying back to Delhi to host Republic Day celebrations on January 26.

This year, instead of a single guest of honour, all 10 leaders from ASEAN – the Association of South East Asian Nations – will be at the Delhi event after which the group will hold informal discussions on, among other things, electricity and fossil fuel.

Seeking allies

If the coming election goes well and is not seen as rigged by ZANU-PF, India will be vital to Zimbabwe rejoining the Commonwealth.  Mr. Trump’s attendance at Davos will dominate making it hard for smaller countries to be heard, but support for Mr. Modi’s stand on clean coal would position Harare as an ally.

For 50 years, John Owusu, originally from Ghana has worked as an engineer in both Europe and Africa.

Now retired, he believes electricity is set to become the issue of our time.

“It’s hard for those in developed countries to grasp how difficult life is without power,” he says. “Not just lights or charging your phone, but no industry or development, no hope of a job. Try turning off your fridge for a day. Or imagine a hospital without the most basic equipment.”

Owusu describes it as the new fault line in politics. “Cheap, reliable power is one of the most sensitive topics in the developing world and millions don’t have it.”

The problem, he says, could fracture meetings like those in Davos or summits hosted by the World Bank, even the UN.

London-based consulting firm Wood MacKenzie, who specialize in energy, take a similar view.

“Coal-fired power is facing strong headwinds globally, but it will dominate emerging markets in Asia in the next two decades,” according to the company’s January statement. “Affordable electricity remains a priority for governments in the region, and coal offers base-load supply at the lowest cost.”

Search the net for news from January 2017, and it’s hard to find the words clean, coal and alliance on the same page.

A year later, as Davos gears up, India hosts the ASEAN leaders and White House aids work on Mr Trump’s State of the Union speech, the phrase sounds more like a war cry.

“After the US election, when it was just Trump and his cabinet talking coal, those who opposed his policies could write him off,” said Mr Owusu.

“Now he has some of the world’s biggest economies set to join his clean-coal alliance.”

The change, he says, is because “politicians in Africa and Asia are listening to people on the ground.

“The folk who run Davos or the IMF are not very good at that.”

The Davos meeting runs from 23 to 26 January.

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