Forget about Davos, Dandora will conquer inequality
WHEN the World Economic Forum (WEF) concluded in Davos, Switzerland, last week, the outcome of the annual talk fest was seemingly predictable – plenty of unrestrained platitudes but, surprisingly, less of the US populist, protectionist rhetoric.
The presence of President Donald Trump was a political sideshow as he proudly declared that America was “open for business” – even as stand-up comedian Jimmy Kimmel wisecracked: “And who better to make that declaration than a man who declared bankruptcy six different times” (when he was a self-declared ‘billionaire’ businessman before he ran for the US presidency).
Trump, who has increasingly opted for bilateralism over multilateralism – while pulling out of the 11member TransPacific Partnership (TPP) and threatening to do the same with the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) with Mexico and Canada – appeared more restrained before the world’s business elites, even though he arrived in Davos immediately after he slapped tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines.
But then appearances, as they say, can be frighteningly deceptive.
Implicitly taking a shot at Trump, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Davos Forum that “forces of protectionism are raising their heads against globalisation”. Their intention is not only to avoid globalisation but also reverse its natural flow, he warned.
Ben Phillips, launch director at the Nairobibased Fight Inequality Alliance, said: “Davos is over. This is not merely to say that the private helicopters have taken their charges back to private airstrips for their onward journey home. This year, 2018, was the nail in the coffin for the idea that Davos could change the world.”
He described the Davos Forum as a “speeddating club for plutocrats and politicians”.
The idea that it will be a force for a more equal society is dead, he said.
Last week, WEF boss Klaus Schwab embraced Trump, complaining that Trump’s “strong leadership” had suffered “misconceptions and biased interpretations”.
Schwab, went further, praising Trump’s rushed and irresponsible tax giveaway to billionaires that is cutting services, increasing debt and widening inequality: “On behalf of the business leaders here in this room, let me particularly congratulate you for the historic tax reform package passed last month, greatly reducing the tax burden of US companies.”
According to the New York Times, some in the audience booed at Schwab’s remarks praising Trump.
Davos is now Trump-Davos, the racism and cruelty of Trump is forgiven, Phillips said.
“And Trump became Davos-Trump, his claimed revolt against globalisation is now exposed as merely an attack on poor migrants and not a challenge to the global elite. Goldman Sachs – once the target of Trump’s rhetoric but now the source of his key cabinet picks – was clear. They really like what he’s done for the economy,” Phillips said.
Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said she saw no evidence that corporate or government leaders in Davos really understood the urgent need to provide justice for the people or the planet.
“While they speak of inclusive growth and climate action, they fail to investigate or challenge their own role in propping up and benefitting from the underlying system that has created the fractured world we live in,” she said.
However, she was inspired by many of the young global shapers, particularly women, whom she met, leading the way with big ideas and collective leadership.
Morgan pointed out that climate risk and climate action were more present in discussions at Davos this year, but not at the speed or scale required when measured against the scale of the challenge we face.
“Climate disruption is the new norm, which means a transformation of our energy and land use systems is the only way forward,” she said.
Phillips said it has not just the embrace of Trump, however, that has ended the myth of Davos as an equalising force. It is the consistent failure of Davos to deliver.
“For years now, Davos has listed inequality as a major concern and yet has also noted that it keeps increasing. Don’t these leaders have any influence?” he asked.
As the world’s foremost expert on inequality trends, former World Bank economist Branko Milanovic concluded last week by saying Davos has “produced 0 results” in lessening inequality – while the economy has been further adjusted by inequality-exacerbating policies that have returned us to the “early 19th century”.
For students of history, Phillips said, this should all be unsurprising. Never, at any time or place, have great strides been made in tackling the concentration of power and wealth by a few by literally concentrating together those powerful and wealthy few.
Indeed, all major equalising change has involved a process of those outside the elite gathering together, building confidence and strength, and pushing for a fairer share.
Greater equality has never been freely given, it has always been won through collective struggle, Phillips said.
Even the usually restrained UN expressed concern over Trump’s call for countries to pursue their own self-interest in this age of globalisation and multilateralism.
The UN high commissioner for human rights, the outspoken Zeid Raad al-Hussein, said: “It’s the script of the 20th century. He (Trump) urged all countries to pursue their own interest, almost without reference to the fact that if you do all of that, if each country is narrowly pursuing its agenda, it will clash with the agendas of others and we will take the world back to 1913 once again.”
Striking a different perspective to Davos, Phillips said: “Happily, last week was a week when that process of people organising together for change also took a step forward. But not on the Davos mountain, but on very different mountains.”
As the media summarised it: “Forget Davos – Dandora is the key to tackling inequality.”
Dandora in Nairobi is a slum situated on top of a garbage mountain and it was there, not at the World Economic Forum, that NGOs, social movements and trade unions who have come together in the global Fight Inequality Alliance centred their organising.
Dandora played host to an Usawa Festival (Equality Festival) pulled together by Kenya’s greatest hip hop star, Juliani, along with grassroots groups working to build strength from the ground up.
Across the world, similar festivals and rallies brought people together to demand change and build their power.
Attendees at Davos complained of being trapped in fog, stuck in ditches and almost buried by heavy snow.
At the Dandora garbage mountain, in contrast, the sun shone, the participants sang in joyful defiance and people took the initiative for change into their own hands, Phillips said.
“We are the people we’ve been waiting for,” they chanted.
It will take time, they said, but from the garbage mountain top they felt, in an echo of Dr Martin Luther King and of the captives who ran from the pharaoh, that they could see the promised land, Phillips declared. – IPS
SWAMPED: US President Donald Trump waves upon his arrival with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, second left, at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, eastern Switzerland on January 25.