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Last Updated: 09/16/2005
Time to Call a Spade a Spade
Simon Stander

Another World Summit takes place in New York. Kofi Annan has done his best, but is talk cheap?

As we write, one hundred and fifty world leaders are in New York to attend the Millenium Summit Five Years after. There can be nothing but praise for Kofi Annan’s leadership. Reforming the UN, saving the world from itself and easing the lot of billions of human beings is clearly well beyond the capacity of one man. No jot of blame should fall at his door for the largely dismal overall record of the last five years. Things are bad, but they could have been even worse.


The richer are getting richer by a significant margin and many of the poorest are getting even poorer. Aid from the richer countries to the poorer has fallen per capita rather than risen. AIDS, malaria and violent conflict have marched through Africa. Among the poorest 22 countries in the world in terms of living standards, twelve are in Africa. Among the bottom thirty-two countries, twenty-two have suffered from violent conflict.


Meanwhile the interests of many countries have shifted away from cutting absolute poverty and improving the lot of the poorest and most deprived toward security, preventing internal violence and instability and international terrorism.


The USA, in the person of John Bolton, has tried to water down the Millenium Goals even further but has failed to do so. Moreover, while the Europeans see the aim of spending 0.7% of GDP on development as being within the bounds of possibility, the USA is a long way from accepting that target.


Other matters regarded by the Secretary-General as being vital for achieving both development and peace, such as reforming and strengthening the UN will not be discussed at the Summit. The UK Guardian newspaper sees the UN as having a heart of gold but limbs of clay. If Kofi Annan is the heart, no-one could have done more to pump life into the UN system. Few with any conscience can argue against his aim for people to live free from want and free from fear and be free to live in dignity. But none of this he sees as possible without a stronger United Nations. 


The talk of “development” as the solution to world poverty is also fraught with problems since the term itself has never been defined in such a way as to provide real meaning for policy implementation. Economic growth, especially as practiced by the “developed” economies, has not been supplanted meaningfully by sustainable development. There are no signs that economic growth will go away in the foreseeable future, as this is the way forward for the rich to get richer.


Others may be pulled along to increased standards of living while yet others will be separated by their poverty and exclusion from the “benefits” of growth. Perhaps if we started calling a spade a spade it might help. If we call development economic growth again, if we challenge the real meaning of the term civil society and if we call globalization what it is, global capitalism, we might start to get closer to seeing what the solutions could be for improving the lot of the poor among us.


There will be much talking at the Summit, but, as the adage goes, who will be listening? Even more importantly, who will be putting their money where their mouths are?

Simon Stander is editor-in-chief of the Peace and Conflict Monitor and associate professor of peace studies at the University for Peace.