Analysis from Davos, the US inauguration and Gambia on the brink: This week in development news

Photo by: Valeriano Di Domenico / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As world business and government leaders gathered for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week, the U.S. prepared for a controversial new president and the small nation of Gambia teetered on the brink of unrest. This week in development news.

The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, has long been touted as an exclusive getaway for the rich and powerful — a chance for the global elite to mingle and matchmake. But this year the picturesque mountain backdrop has been overshadowed by a cascade of global trends and events that have forced these leaders to rethink their obligations to a world that has grown restive and unconvinced by the virtues of the global economy that WEF attendees represent. Davos has always branded itself as a forum for world-improving ideas. This year a sense of urgency has energized the working groups, panel discussions, and early breakfast meetings — as the Davos crowd works to prove it can provide responsible leadership and better solutions, specifically targeted at people who feel left behind.

Development organizations say they’re getting a bigger seat at the table in the mainstream of WEF discussions, and the high-powered businesses that make the biggest impression are talking less about corporate social responsibility and more about making the world’s most intractable problems their core business. Some high-level moments have grabbed headlines, such as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s defense of free trade and the Paris climate agreement, and new U.N. Secretary General António Guterres’ statement that youth unemployment is the world’s greatest risk.

But many of the smaller moments are just as newsworthy, and some of them will likely make more of a difference for the bottom billion — including when World Bank President Jim Kim sat in a room full of health luminaries and urged donors to embrace financial engineering to stretch their limited budgets. Or a session that will bring business competitors who’ve never shared a stage together to think about how insurance can help developing countries adopt better building codes for disaster risk reduction. Or a new fund for neglected tropical diseases that has tapped a WEF-convened network of young “global shapers” to increase the visibility of an underfunded disease class that afflicts 1.5 billion people.

Devex will continue to provide updates as they emerge from the WEF — and will follow the conversations to their endpoint, so the development community can evaluate whether conversations at Davos amount to solutions everywhere else.

Meanwhile, Gambia is on edge as Senegalese troops have entered the country in an effort to force longtime president, Yahya Jammeh, who refused to step down at the end of his term, out of office. Jammeh lost last month’s election to Adama Barrow, who is in Senegal and is expected to be sworn in as president on Thursday.  as West African governments ready for a potential military offensive into the country to unseat Jammeh. The Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, has asked Senegal to lead the military actions but it is still waiting to see if the United Nations Security Council will approve the intervention; no vote has yet been scheduled. Jammeh, who has led the country for more than 20 years, contends that election irregularities should void the results, and earlier this week he declared a state of emergency.

The world is looking to the United States this week as it readies for the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump on Friday. As he gets ready to take office, uncertainty continues about what development policy will look like in the new administration. A questionnaire about Africa policy circulated at the State Department raised concerns, and news emerged that Trump’s team could look to make cuts to departments, funding and staff at the State Department, the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and to Paris Climate Agreement commitments.  

Thus far few appointments have been made, and U.S. aid agencies are still waiting for landing teams. This week the U.S. Agency for International Development did announce that Wade Warren, who leads the agency’s policy bureau, will take over as acting administrator at noon on Jan. 20. The agency “continues to provide information and briefings to the President-elect's transition team. We are ensuring that the President-elect's transition team has the tools and resources necessary for a smooth and efficient transition," a USAID spokesman told Devex in an email.

Nikki Haley — the governor of South Carolina and Trump's nominee for U.N. ambassador — was the latest of the president-elect's cabinet appointments to show her cards on U.S. development policy. At her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Haley focused on how she would approach funding and U.S. leadership at the United Nations, saying that, unlike some of her Republican colleagues, she does not believe in a "slash and burn approach." Rather, she would promote a strategy of scrutinizing individual U.N. agencies and bodies, how they perform — and their treatment of Israel. Haley was all but hired following her Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, with the committee co-chair saying he expected her to be unanimously confirmed. But while many of the political views Haley expressed did not echo that of her likely future boss, she will, eventually, have to answer to him, as some Trump biographers have pointed out.

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About the authors

  • Igoe michael 1

    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.
  • Saldiner adva

    Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.