Monday, November 17, 2008

East to save West, South to teach North

At work, I was asked to write something brief in response to this question: "What are 5 key economic, environmental, social, political, local factors and global/regional forces in the next 5 years that will have a determining effect on (the field of transitional justice)"? I don't like these open-ended questions, but here's what I said --

1. Capitalism from the East. China, India, Singapore and the cash-rich emirates in the Middle East have already shown their willingness to invest in U.S and European economies – partly because they have export-oriented economies (China, India) or have liquidity but little to invest in within their own countries. But will their cash be enough to revive the US and European economies in five years? I doubt it. This might have to involve Russia and Japan (unless the Japanese economy suffers as well) taking bigger roles in the G-8 and in capital markets in the West. An Obama presidency will have to balance contradictory economic impulses. It will try to protect the American labor force from competing imports and jobs that can be outsourced while wanting to keep foreign industrial production and foreign capital generation churning in order to prop up US businesses. The big US banks will have to look for cheaper money – that means going to the East, where margins are still high and liquidity even higher. (Good thing I haven’t borrowed to buy that mansion in New Jersey!)

2. Democracy from the south. All of this will create pressure on North American and European governments to come to terms with the East, or more specifically the South – on the way “democracy” has been defined in the post-Cold War era. With the end of the Soviet Union and the opening up and transformation of Eastern Europe, China and the Indochinese countries due to various forms of democratizing factors (mostly trade, but also the Internet, migration, returning diasporas, overseas workers and, contrary to the belief of Republicans who want to canonize Ronald Reagan) we have witnessed the growth of new post-Leninist generations of left-wing activists and different strains of progressive thought, from Greenpeace to a renewed concept of Democratic Socialism and a very radical anti-globalization movement. In five years, some political circles in the West will start to recognize that elections cannot be the backbone of building a democracy – partly because it took 56 Presidential elections in the US before a significant part of its citizenry could even hope to be President – and largely because the global South isn’t what it used to be, i.e. one big post-colonial mess of dictators and juntas and/or liberation armies that can’t even run a cantina properly.

Instead, the global South, now and probably for the next 5 years, will have its own version of the Cold War, but on regional scales – Brazil will compete with – who? Venezuela? – for influence in the region. China and India will probably continue to perceive each other as competitors but may realize, after 5 years of continued economic growth that they have more in common (and to gain) as economic powers and tenuous allies. Southeast Asian economies will look to China and India as markets for their own expansion, with Japan as a destination for exporting workers, and not really goods. Russia will re-assert its own influence not so much in Eastern Europe, but in its forgotten backyard of central and even east Asia where, eventually, it will have to assess how it will relate with China (again). The leaderships of these countries will have to consolidate public support – which, given technology and the newfound prosperity in these economies, will have to be earned more than it can be coerced. (The Olympics made the Chinese leadership even more popular to the citizenry -- with no electoral college votes and lobbyist money required!). (And South Africa? Surely, the ANC leadership will try to reassert the country’s leadership in that part of the continent, but with what moral or economic clout? I don’t know.) Again, democracy in the global south will be a varied set of social and economic experiments, with a deeper level of participation – at levels of the community, factories, schools, plantations, diaspora groups, churches -- than just traditional notions of political parties and elite leaders. What is more important is that the transitions would look the same (sometimes violent, often with abuses rampant just before a transfer of power) but will also be different because any Western effort to plant a made-for-American-TV type of democracy will be suspect (“Is it a counter-terrorism measure?” “Is it intended to ensure control over oil, over sea-lanes, over Bratz-doll-making factories?”). The ruling classes in these regional powers will want to define these transitions in ways that will reinforce their vision of their State and mobilize support from a more information-savvy middle class, e.g. China will let Taiwan’s fate be decided economically rather than militarily, or even that North Korea will have to just let South Koreans run their country, with Russia and China insisting that US bases be gradually removed from the peninsula. These last 2 events will probably not happen in the next 5 years. But if they do, those engaged in transitional justice work should already be positioned to deal with accountability issues from a perspective that (a) does not assume that Western-democratic (which is often meant read as “Western-educated”) types will take over, e.g. Nepal (now a former monarchy ruled by Maoists) and (b) is open to looking at accountability more broadly and inclusively than it does now, i.e. issues of land and displacement, economic crimes and pillage, questions over the accountability of third States in escalating violence.

3. Resource competition waged as conflicts over identity. Or: “So what’s new?” .

4. Identity-based conflicts that will involve capitalism from the East and democracy from the South, something like Darfur but in more regions than NGOs have offices in.

5. A re-defined (by NGO and civil society partners in the East and South) transitional justice paradigm that extends to collective rights (e.g. ‘people’s rights’ as expressed in the African or Banjul Charter), accountability for economic crimes and natural resource despoliation (the DRC, the Middle East, southeast Asia, Pakistan), equal emphasis on gender as an economic and social element rather than being primarily or only a sexual element in rights violations (e.g. the one-child policy in China), recognizing the role of religion and culture as forms of material reparations rather than merely being symbolic (e.g. religious schools or madrasas in southern Thailand and in the Philippines being re-built).

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