JOHANNESBURG — BizNews publisher Alec Hogg and I will be attending this year’s annual WEF gathering in Davos, Switzerland later this month. It’s already shaping up to be a fascinating event, especially with the announcement that US President Donald Trump is attending. Also, President Jacob Zuma has dropped out from going (for the second year in a row) and newly elected ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa will be there as well. Moreover, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa will also be attending the event in Davos. Is that the sound of a New World Order I hear? – Gareth van Zyl
(Bloomberg) — For the citizens of Davos, Donald Trump is just one more VIP.
The residents and holidaymakers at the Swiss mountain town see the U.S. president — who previously railed against the type of elites that traditionally attend the event — as another visitor at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting. Even if Trump weren’t coming, the town would still be going into security lockdown, rerouting local bus lines and seeing bars and hotels taken over by investment banks and global corporations.
While a group in Zurich, some 90 miles away, has launched a petition to stop Trump’s attendance, people in the town itself say the presence the man known for his fiery rhetoric and late-night barrages on Twitter is just as welcome as anyone else.
“He’s been elected, you can’t just ignore him,” said Jutta Schneidereit, speaking in the town on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the White House said Trump would spread his “America First” agenda at the gathering.
But the 65 year-old retired lawyer from Germany — who’s been taking vacations in Davos for 35 years — also acknowledged his presence will make for an interesting meeting with, possibly, a mixture a tension and glitz.
“Other government officials will have to accept him with gritted teeth,” she said, adding that Trump will give this year’s forum “a certain cabaret effect.”
Forum for Dialog
Speaking to people around the town two weeks before the WEF starts — with the slogan “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” — similar views emerged from most.
“He’s a business man, so he belongs at the event,” said Beatrice Camastral, 53, who works in a local store. “His manner is provocative, and that’s a bit tricky.”
The administration of the town of 12,600 people in eastern Switzerland says Trump, whose inauguration a year ago was met with protests around the U.S., will be welcome, as are all high-profile guests.
“Davos wants to be a platform for fostering dialog — the spirit of coming together even if there are differences to try to find a common solution,” said Michael Straub, Davos’s first secretary.
In previous years, the WEF has met with anti-capitalist protests, though a wide security ring has kept demonstrators far away from the conference center. For 23-year-old carpenter Marcel Wegmann, fighting his presence isn’t a sensible approach.
“Protesting would be a joke,” he said, sitting in a cafe with a friend. “He’s president, full stop. And it wouldn’t work, Trump doesn’t care, you’ve seen that.”
While the U.S. President shouldn’t have problems finding Diet Coke, his beverage of choice, in the town, there’s no local McDonald’s outlet. The closest is 36 miles away in the region’s municipal capital.
Not to worry, said Josef Baggenstos, a 75-year-old Swiss pensioner speaking on Davos’s main street. “He’ll be in Chur quickly.”