For­get about Davos, Dan­dora will con­quer in­equal­ity

The New Age (Western Cape) - - Opinion & Analysis - THALIF DEEN Thalif Deen is an IPS cor­re­spon­dent

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

PIC­TURE: AFP PHOTO

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.

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