Headlines surrounding the G20 Summit held in Hamburg, Germany, last week have been nothing short of gloom, with some protesters waving signs directed at world leaders who gathered for the summit, reading “Welcome to Hell”. It is reported that on the eve of the summit, water cannons had been deployed and directed at protesters attempting to disrupt the gathering of world leaders.
People are clearly very angry at the status quo. This was not the first time an expression of dissatisfaction by civil society was manifested at a high-level gathering of this nature. Recall the 1999 WTO Protests in Seattle, USA – when people gathered to protest during the WTO Ministerial Conference. The 1999 protests were anti-capitalism. Union workers, labour rights groups, and other civil society organizations took the streets to express their frustration with ‘globalization’ as they saw it.
Last week, and almost 20 years later, the cry is still the same, with wide protests during the Group of 20 Summit held in another developed, high-income country, Germany. Protesters do not see the point of the G20 and the summit. In a news report, one of the protest organizers is quoted as attributing economic inequality, issues surrounding climate change and the migration crisis on the G20 and its world leaders.
At a recent Think20 summit, on May 29, 2017 – May 30, 2017, held for the purpose of providing G20 leaders with policy recommendations for Global Solutions, various professionals – businesspeople, researchers, academics, media representatives, think tanks from around the world – gathered to engage in dialogue and debate surrounding ways towards economic growth, social cohesion, peace and security and ways to protect the environment.
Policy recommendations were researched, drafted and ultimately culminated into 20 policy proposals that were presented to the German Chancellery Minister. The presentation of the policy briefs called on the G20 to take strides towards the implementation of the recommendations.
Where is Africa in all of this? There is only one African nation in the G20, South Africa. There is a paradox to be drawn from this with respect to engaging Africa significantly on issues of global importance at such gatherings. This point, of “talking about Africa without Africa” and “a stronger voice for Africa at the G20 [and in other global settings]” was highlighted by one of the panelists during a discussion at the Think20 Summit. The current frustration
The current frustration, as manifested in Hamburg, is frustration against the status quo, frustration against a club of world leaders in an exclusive group driving the agenda for everyone else. Their inability to drive the agenda or to contribute significantly to the agend has frutrated African countries, who see themselves as being driven by the agenda. Even though Africa’s position is not significantly on the minds of those thousands of protesters in Hamburg, it is clearly part of the bigger problem with the formation of the existing structures and models.
The protests surrounding the G20 summit are yet another reminder (after the 2016 US elections, the Brexit vote, the near misses in the Dutch and French elections) that governance as we know it is being questioned.
The tough questions and civic resistance is a wakeup call that it is no longer business as usual. Grassroots organizations also want a seat at the table; as do indigent communities and smaller economies, particularly those in Africa. It cannot be about ‘club governance’. If seats are not provided for all stakeholders, there are those prepared to bring folding chairs to disrupt the formal gatherings – as it was clearly being seen in Hamburg.
The G20 (and particularly the summit) was birthed from an attempt to learn lessons from and address the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis. As an informal political forum it has made significant steps towards being more inclusive and not simply a club for the biggest economies. It has engaged various groups: businesses, youth, think tanks, and others; however, it still is an exclusive group trying to be inclusive. Integration and cohesion is a global goal at this point, the stakes for further disintegration (socially and internationally) are all too high at this point.
Integration and Cohesion is a global goal at this point, the stakes for further disintegration (socially and internationally) are all too high at this point.