Saturday, July 20, 2024

Civil Society Takes Centre Stage in the Age of Crisis

Botswana Independence week, culminating September 30, 2022, when many Batswana were caught in the frenzy of holiday-making and celebrations of a long weekend, three supreme global institutions; the World Bank, IMF and UNAIDS, released their annual reports. All the three reports, Crisis Upon Crisis (2022) by the IMF, In Danger (2022) by UNAIDS, and Helping Countries Adapt to a Changing World (2022) by the World Bank, paint a picture of global devastation and desolation in just about every area of human life, existence and survival; the environment, or planet earth, politics, international economics, international relations, economic growth and global prosperity, public welfare and living standards, global peace and democracy. The world we live in has never been more fragile.

Not since the World Wars of the last century and the threat of nuclear annihilation in the same century. Climate crisis, HIV/AIDS, Covid-19 pandemic, Russian War on Ukraine, global rise of authoritarian threats to democracy, and the looming world economic recession all point to one direction; a profound weakening of the international system, a world defined by shocks, hazards, insecurity, scarcity, hunger, epidemics and pandemic diseases, wars, devastating hurricanes and wild fires, deadly heatwaves and merciless droughts, ideological upheavals and moral collapse. In her messages to the menaced world, IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, unambiguously states: “The global economy is facing its biggest test since World War ll.”

She makes clear “the ongoing pandemic has continued to exact an enormous health and socioeconomic toll, affecting lives and livelihoods everywhere…soaring food and energy prices and broader inflation are hitting the most vulnerable the hardest…there is no pause button on the climate crisis while we deal with these other crisis.” The IMF report itself depicts a world and livelihoods characterised by a terrible nexus of intersecting crisis and risks never seen before, including mounting household, national and global institutional debts, geopolitical conflicts, social tensions within nation-states, broken and dysfunctional political systems, harmful fuel, fertilizers, gas, food and commodity shortages, labour shortages in the West, unprecedented supply disruptions and threats of a world recession.

Many of these problems directly, and daily, affect Botswana citizens, families, households and communities with the same impacts and consequences as they do in other parts of the world which is the reason why I am inflicting their uncomfortable reading and dystopian revelation of our human condition to you as the readers, especially civil society professionals and human rights activists. It’s a bleak world we live in and I believe we can do a lot to contribute solutions and influence the way forward working alongside similar organizations from other parts of the world.   Let’s look at, for example, the UNAIDS report. The title of the report is in bold red, and so is the cover. Why? Because of the necessary concern about the devastating impact of “the multiple and overlapping crisis that have rocked the world,” over the last two years; the litany of apocalyptic afflictions I mentioned above. Response to these multiple crisis (trillions were spent to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and more are currently being deployed to fight Putin’s War in Ukraine, while even more money is being diverted to climate change programs funding.) And what is happening to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, a major problem here in Botswana?

What is happening to research in finding a cure? What is happening to investment and research in these critical areas? How have the people who live with and those who are affected by HIV in Botswana and the world over? The report paints a grim picture. To quote the UNAIDS Executive Director: “The new data revealed in this report are frightening: progress has been faltering, resources have been shrinking and inequalities have been widening. Insufficient investment and action are putting all of us in danger: we face millions of AIDS-related deaths and millions of new HIV infections if we continue on our current trajectory…we need to be frank: that promise (to end AIDS by 2030) and the AIDS response are in danger.” What can be done? The World Bank report reminds us that extreme poverty increased throughout the world in 2020, just before the pandemic hit us, and that this is the first time in two decades that we witness such a reversal of efforts to fight this global scourge. World Bank president, David Malpas,  gave a brilliant lecture at Stanford University, titled The Crisis Facing Development, after the release of the report, admits that global society is “facing dangerous crisis that are hammering developing countries, hitting the poor and vulnerable, and worsening global inequality.

High inflation, war in Ukraine, large macroeconomic imbalances, and the shortage of energy, fertilizer and food have caused the sharpest global economic downturn in 80 years.” The bank is helping with billions to arrest this fearful situation, and this time they are not only looking at governments: they are looking for robust professional commitment and partnerships in global civil society. As I write World Bank Civil Society Policy Forum Meetings, October 11-14 (not new but there is no mistaking the new sense of urgency, wider engagement, and rethinking of the global development frameworks and ideologies) are live, covering almost 40 sessions and networking opportunities for all global civil society organizations, activists, thinkers, and leaders, and the agency of this moment in history, the appeal to human conscience arising from this Age of Crisis, is not lost on participants as its clear from the major themes here and the robustness of deliberations.

In conclusion let’s not forget that the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to one remarkable human rights advocate and two human rights organizations in turbulent Eastern Europe; namely Belarusian Ales Bialiatski, the Centre for Civil Liberties in Ukraine, and Memorial in Russia. Announcing the winners, Committee Chair, Berit Reiss-Andersen, emphasized that the laureates “represent civil society in their home countries. They have for many years promoted the right to criticise power and promote the fundamental rights of citizens…together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for democracy and peace.” Isn’t this a win for global civil society? Can anyone doubt civil society is taking centre stage, albeit slowly, in the fight against international crisis, instability, insecurity, and threats to democratic consolidation and greater prosperity for all?

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