The New World (Dis)Order
Protests rage around the world – but what comes next? Disaster in the Desert. War Is Not Over. ISIS Is Already Rising From The Ashes. These are some of the headlines dominating a few of the major foreign policy publications and news sites at the time of writing. According to the Centre for Preventive Action, 70.8 million people are currently displaced by conflict worldwide. These conflicts range from civil wars, sectarian violence, political instability, religious militancy and internal strife in places such as Yemen, Syria, Mali, Haiti, Venezuela, Pakistan, Myanmar, Kashmir and Lebanon. Even in Chile, a high-income country and a leader in Latin America in terms of human development and economic freedom, there has been recent unrest. These developments are now the poster children for disorder in almost every region of the world.
Unfortunately, the human side of many of these conflicts is often overlooked. For example, according to the United Nations (UN) Envoy for Syria, the civil war which started in 2011 has claimed an estimated 400,000 lives. In Yemen, the death toll is approximately 100,000, with a further 14 million at risk of starvation and death.
The collective will to tackle many of these crises appears to be lacking, particularly among the world’s major powers, as well as between the various internal factions jostling for power and control. As such, instead of improving, many of the world’s crises are worsening.
At the risk of reductionism, a root cause of many of the world’s calamities is growing inequality in economic, social and political terms.
Essentially, countless people on the fringes of economic, social and political participation in their countries are demanding more. In Chile for example, while it has been a model of success and stability in Latin America, with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of US$15,000, it also has one of the highest levels of income inequality among the members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
According to Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University in the United States, unrest can follow unpopular policies even in successful economies, if wealth is not distributed evenly. Guardian writer Michael Safi, acknowledges that not all the protests are driven by economic complaints, however, widening gulfs between the haves and have-nots are radicalising many young people in particular.
For those of us in the Caribbean who are living in relative peace and security and far removed from some of these crises, we may ask why any of it is relevant to us. While there is little that we might be able to do to make a tangible difference given the sheer magnitude of several of the global conflicts, they nonetheless impose on us the need for collective reflection in terms of how we can make our own societies better to avoid the descent into darkness and decay that is evident in many corners of the world. Such reflection would remind us that we must translate economic success into inclusive development for all. We should also be reminded that the democratic traditions that underpin our societies could be rendered meaningless if people assess that the means for political inclusion are absent. Socially, it is also incumbent on us to maintain and strengthen our safety nets to ensure that those who do not have the ability to take care of their own needs are provided with the means to live a dignified life. Our young people must also be prioritised and interventions designed to ensure that they have access to quality and relevant education, jobs and the means for civic participation.
Finally, a major lesson from the unrest in Chile of all places is that these things can happen anywhere. This is why we must do everything possible to maintain economic, political and social cohesion.
Joel K Richards is a Vincentian national living and working in Europe in the field of international trade and development.
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