Seriously speaking, does it make sense that the African Union—representing a global population of some 1.4 billion people—is neither represented in the G20 or the United Nations Security Council in any weighty sensible way?
On the other hand, how prepared and determined are the African leaders themselves in demanding a suitable voice in global affairs like Kwame Nkrumah used to do in the 1950s and 1960s? Why do Africa’s leaders habitually squat on the sidelines, aloof, veiled, pervious, waiting for benevolent crumbs from the G20 tables? Hope, prayers, and wishes do not answer those questions: Resolve, raw determination, and action do!
Speaking on “Accelerating the Critical Transactions Required’’ at the United Nations (UN) Food Systems Pre-Summit (in Rome — Italy, from July 26 – 28, 2021), Jeffrey Sachs spoke to the world fora (including the World Bank / IMF) as follows (edited slightly):
Jeffrey Sachs on global food security
I want to emphasise that we have a world food system, and it is based on multi-national companies; it is based on private profits; it is based on a very, very low measure of international transfers to help poor people, sometimes none at all.
It is based on extreme irresponsibility of powerful countries with regards to the environment and it is based on radical denial of rights of poor people.
It is interesting that a Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was just asked: “What’s wrong with your country?”
We don’t even start by saying the King of Belgium created a slave colony for 30 years; the government of Belgium ran the slave colony for another 40 years; the west assassinated the first popular leader, Mr. Patrice Lumumba, and a dictatorship installed for another 30 years, and that cobalt is being sucked away without the payment of taxes.
We don’t reflect on that. We say “What is wrong with you? Why don’t you govern properly?”
We need a different system. We cannot turn this over to the private sector; we already did about a 100 years ago.
Not only the private sector but with the US military behind it. We need a different system based on principles of human dignity in the universal declaration, principles of sovereignty, principles of economic rights.
In 1948, all the governments said that food is a right, social protection is a right – that was 73 years ago.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are nothing more than our generation’s attempt to honour the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I come from a country that doesn’t care about the world’s poor; it doesn’t even care about its own poor.
One in seven Americans is hungry right now; the poor people care, and one political party cares about cutting taxes for the rich and not proffering any solution.
The private sector is not going to solve this problem. I am sorry to say this to all the private sector leaders: Behave, pay your taxes! What should be done is the following (they won’t but they should):
Include Africa in G21
First, the G20 should become the G21 by inviting systemically the chairperson of the AU, and the AU to be the 21st country.
The European Union (EU) is a member of the G20. If you add the AU as the 21st for the G21 you add 1.4 billion people to representation at that crucial event. That will change decisively the discussion because 1.4 billion people are not at the table for finance right now and they need to be. So my first recommendation is the G21.
Second, we need an order-of-magnitude change of development finance. The rich countries just borrowed 17 trillion dollars for COVID; the poor countries, nothing; because the rich countries can borrow at zero but the poor countries pay five or ten per cent coupon rates or have no access at all. So the world exposed its grotesque inequality this past year-and-a-half.
My country spent seven trillion dollars of emergency dollars—not one penny for anybody else—by the way. It didn’t even cross the imagination of the US congress to include a few crumbs for the rest of the world, but the poor countries cannot borrow; that is what we should hear from the World Bank.
So that’s the second thing: we need to massively increase the lending and borrowing capacity of poor countries at near zero interest rates like the rich countries have then they could get something done.
By the way for COVID vaccines, what we need is that the USA should sit with China, with Russia, with the European Union and the UK, one day around the table, and allocate these vaccines rather than hoarding them.
Best way forward
So we need to have natural pathways that add up to what is missing: You want electricity? It has to be purchased. You want digital access? It has to be purchased. You want safe water, irrigation? It has to be purchased.
By the way, the IMF has done wonderful studies in the last two years showing that we have a financing gap of about 400 to 500 billion dollars a year for the basics of the SDGs.
They show the gap but nobody comes up with the solution which wouldn’t be so hard because that is just not a big number: it’s 0.5 of one percent of world output.
So if we really care we wouldn’t have the G7 saying “We love education, therefore, we are going to give $3 billion for education,” that is what they said at the summit, but what UNESCO has shown is that you need at least $30 billion a year, minimum, but nobody looks at the numbers. So we need real numbers of finance to back the national pathways.
The final thing is that we need the UN as the core and central institution of this world, period! Because this is the only way we are going to have a civilised world a strong UN, and it cannot be that the whole UN budget is less than my neighbourhood’s budget in New York.
The UN core budget this year is $3 billion; New York City’s budget is a 100 billion dollars and then we say “Why don’t things work well?” It’s because the rich are hoarding everything.
[Jeffrey Sachs is a public policy analyst and professor at Columbia University, New York]
The writer is a trainer of teachers, a leadership coach, a motivational speaker and quality education advocate.