As governments are called to prioritise women and girls
War is the midwife of an old society that is pregnant with a new one. This is the lens that can be suggested to view the runaway virus that has upended life as we know it. The pathogen has wrought staggering death tolls and wrecked untold destruction of livelihoods. But the most searing indictment that the contagion has issued can be viewed against the dominant capitalist mode of production which now wants to eat its cake and have it.
Through its high priests in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and robber barons in the corporate sector, capitalism has over the years emasculated the state but is now demanding the intervention of the same hapless state to save it (from itself). National treasuries, ministries and departments are under pressure to conduct bailouts, provide stimulus packages and tax rebates for the notorious “too big to fail.” As ActionAid, we are saying there is need to support women and girls who suffer the most because of structural causes of economic exclusion. The same goes with the small and medium scale enterprises and smallholder farmers run by young women who are the engines of any developing economy should therefore be prioritised by policy makers and governments. Sadly, we have forgotten and could easily commit the same mistakes which featured obscene rescue packages that rewarded misconduct and punished the worker.
I contend that the effects of the 2008 global meltdown, whose root causes were never resolved but temporarily put on a leash, are still with us. The virus has broken the leash. Moreover, I find it curious that for all the environmental destruction, thoughtless extraction, long hours, financialisation mass impoverishment, misery and desperation associated with the so-called free market, the fundamentals were never as sound as the blinking screens of Wall Street, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Johannesburg and Hong Kong suggest. Instead, it has withered so quickly…and spectacularly displayed evidence of its inability to adapt or absorb (temporary) shocks. So much for the over-hyped global village that has been the chorus answer whenever questions of sustainability and inclusion were raised.
Supply chains have melted like butter, air travel is paralysed and currency markets are at an all-time low. Having learnt nothing from 2008, the proposals have been to administer the same (wrong) medicine—in higher doses—to an illness that has been misdiagnosed. Stimulus packages, bailouts, and raising debt ceilings. It comes down to the same futility: digging one hole to fill another. As soon as the bubble bursts as they always do, we will find ourselves in these doldrums again. You don’t need to possess any special analytical skills to see why this is a cycle that will never stop.
Some progressive alternatives have captured the imagination of a few policymakers in Amsterdam, London, Copenhagen (and Nairobi to some degree) but the effort would be a lot more meaningful if a decisive majority of the global community of states emulated the alternatives. Regrettably, partisan bickering has ensured that the nerve centre of global commerce passes a two-trillion-dollar-strong stimulus that does not go far enough to correct the design flaws of capitalism. It buys time but even through neoliberal lenses, does not answer the dual supply and demand side shocks that have simultaneously occurred. There is little willingness to reflect and consider alternatives on either side of the Atlantic. Beijing and Washington are engaged in a “war of numbers” as they scramble to sound the all-clear and restart the engines of a damaged global economy. This is itself symptomatic of the parasitic (or even cancerous) disposition of the free market.
Although the contagion has somewhat spared sub Saharan Africa (so far), rude shocks await banana republics whose strongmen thought that stockpiles of teargas and bullets would guarantee eternal rule. Still clinging onto the coercive apparatus of the post-colonial tax state they inherited from the conveners of the Berlin Conference, they are now faced with an enemy that no military drill could’ve anticipated. We should therefore lower the expectations of our governments’ capacities to manage this crisis because even the usual means of coercion now require more money (which, thanks to the production model, is in short supply) to maintain law and order. Meantime, the haves cannot sleep because they are worried about the poor breaking into their houses while the poor cannot sleep because they are hungry—this kind of inequality is itself an outcome of an economic culture that has put a monetary tag on everything.
Consequently, citizens are now faced with two impossible choices: death by hunger (as slow shutdowns take shape) or death by disease as the insurgent pathogen indiscriminately sweeps across continents. Alone and by ourselves as citizens, it then falls on the shoulders of all those who believe we have had enough of disaster capitalism (and its African cousin, the post-colonial tax state) to first of all appreciate the inherent bankruptcy (both moral and financial), structural violence and soulless character of the current world order. It must be made clear, as the evidence now shows, that a system cannot protect those it was never designed to. All these efforts by hapless governments are only postponing the inevitable. From that point, we can then amplify the voices and organizational capabilities of the already existing social movement that seeks to combat the malignant tumor of capitalism.
My vision for a more humane mode of production features gender responsive public policies that make healthcare (and other basic social amenities like education and social security) a universal right; a plan to flatten the debt curve and free countries and citizens from the shackles of corporate debt; significant investments in clean energy with a view to guaranteeing the sustainability of the planet and a roll-out of anti-poverty drives that raise the bar of the quality of life enjoyed by the least of us. That way, we will have tamed the ghost of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which—in its various incarnations—keeps presidents, ministers, corporates and workers awake at night scheming and devising ever more harmful plots on how to keep ahead of the pack.
We can preach to younger generations about ideals like democracy and virtues like Ubuntu but if we do not redefine value beyond material possessions and fundamentally re-engineer the production process, the gains we’ve made in the postwar era stand no chance in the face of faceless pathogens and dangerous entities like Trump, Bolsonaro and Associates.
The author of this article is a Lawyer who works for ActionAid.