The IMF: Change in the Air?

IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde. Photo credit: CNN

This year’s G20 (Group of Twenty) Summit – an annual forum where the world’s twenty largest economies discuss international economic cooperation – took place in Brisbane Australia. Several commitments on boosting global growth, reducing inequalities, attaining inclusive growth, creating jobs and even establishing a Global Infrastructure Hub were made.

What particularly caught my attention in the communiqué was Read More »

The BRICS Bank: an ‘Alternative’ to the Bretton-Woods Institutions?

Recently, the leaders of the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – made a bold step in setting up an international development bank. They have agreed to raise $100 billion to that effect, with plans for the headquarters of the financial institution to be based in Shanghai, China.

This decision came after years, of intense negotiations.

According to The Guardian:

The BRICS were prompted to seek coordinated action after an exodus of capital from emerging markets last year, triggered by the scaling back of US monetary stimulus. The new bank reflects the growing influence of the BRICS, which account for almost half the world’s population and about a fifth of global economic output.

The bank will begin with a subscribed capital of $50bn divided equally between its five founders, with an initial total of $10bn in cash put in over seven years and $40bn in guarantees. It is scheduled to start lending in 2016 and be open to membership by other countries, but the capital share of the BRICS cannot drop below 55%.

 

This significant development in international economic relations has been eclipsed from global headlines by the latest eruption of the tragic Israel-Palestinian conflict and the shooting down of yet another plane of the Malaysian Airlines fleet.

Discussing the new BRICS Bank with friends online and offline raised a number of pertinent issues:

First, can China’s dominance provide the decisive leadership needed to get the BRICS Bank up on its feet, as the US did for the IMF, the World Bank and the UN in the immediate post-War era in 1945? Or will its dominance be too overbearing, and actually derail the Bank even before it takes off fully?

Second, will the China-dominated BRICS bank vis-à-vis a US-dominated Bretton Woods system reincarnate another bipolar world order? Do we even want bipolarism dominated by two competing economic and political systems, the Washington Consensus and the Beijing Consensus?

Third, will the BRICS countries successfully manage their numerous differences (and there are many – language, size, spatial differences, financial clout and variations in political systems to mention a few).

Russian President, Vladmir Putin and a representative of the South African government right behind him at a BRICS summit in 2013. Photo credit: New York Times
Russian President, Vladmir Putin and a representative of the South African government right behind him at a BRICS summit in 2013. Photo credit: New York Times

Fourth, will the establishment of the BRICS Bank provide more diverse sources of development finance for the global South? Will it further enhance South-South cooperation? Is the new development bank capable of serving as an effective competition to the US-dominated Bretton Woods institutions, to at the very least, inspire needed reforms in these multilateral institutions to make them more inclusive (in voting rights, decision-making and staff composition)? Do we want competition, diversity, or both?

Fifth, where does (sub-Saharan) Africa fit into all this? What is the African Union’s position on this new institution?

And finally, why is Nigeria not included? Why isn’t it a BRINCS or an N-BRICS Bank? After all, with a GDP of $509 billion Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, and is over $100 billion richer than South Africa’s $372 billion economy. Although the BRICS acronym was coined years before Nigeria transitioned to Africa’s largest economy in May 2014. One still can’t help wondering whether this is the price Nigeria has to pay for its severe domestic political and security challenges.

What are your thoughts?

Crimes against Wo-manity

Strauss Kahn in Court

How the mighty hath fallen!…is a phrase that I am pretty certain crosses the mind of most people upon seeing the image  of Dominic Strauss-Kahn, IMF Managing Director arraigned in court on charges of attempted rape and sexual assault. He looked forlorn, unshaven, disheveled with down-cast eyes – the look of a man defeated, with the weight of the world on his shoulders. A penny for his thoughts…here was a man who erstwhile had the world in his hands – he strode the IMF like a colossus on the verge of negotiating IMF bailout packages for Portugal and Greece, trying to get the Eurozone out of the recession; he had a thriving political career in France, ready to emerge as a foremost contender for the presidency against Nicolas Sarkozy next year; he was living the life with all the perks that being head of IMF entails like lodging in a $3,000 per night suite in New York and then he just had to ruin all that by (allegedly) pulling a fast one on a chamber-maid. You just have to feel sorry for the man, I mean to have the whole world in the palm of your hands one second, and then to have it slip away the next. But most of all, one has to feel sorry for all the women in the world who daily go through various forms of abuse, assault, attacks and other heinous crimes. One cannot help being torn between two different sets of emotions.

In the first place is a sense of anger over our general vulnerability and state of insecurity as women across time and space. From the developed to the developing world despicable crimes are committed against women daily  in different situations – at home, in school, in offices, in farmlands, on the streets; crimes range from sexual assault and molestation, physical abuse and violence to trafficking and modern slavery and other heinous activities. Take the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for instance where it was reported recently that over 1,100 rapes take place every day, essentially a rape pandemic unleashed by  rebels as a weapon of war presumably to break the spirits of these women and traumatize them. It is such a horrendous and inhuman thing I am still incapable of understanding and probably never will.

In the West, rape, sexual molestation and most disturbingly murder abound. This to a large extent informed crime reality shows like Murder Detectives, Forensic Detectives, FBI Files on Discovery Channel and Hollywood versions like CSI. Here in the UK I have been following one or two cases over the past few months particularly that of Joanna Yeates, a young architect in her mid-twenties who was abducted on her way home in the evening, sexually assaulted and then murdered. I particularly feel emotionally attached to Joanna Yates’ case, as if I knew her personally or something – maybe it is out of the realization that being in my mid-twenties as well, it could just as easily have been me. There is also the case of Nikitta Grender a pregnant teen that was murdered and set ablaze in her flat; a teenage girl stabbed in London a few weeks ago, and the list goes on and on.

More generally is the evil, global menace of modern-day slavery or human trafficking involving young girls from many West African countries sent to Europe for a life of sexual slavery and prostitution; young girls from Eastern European countries subjected to sexual slavery within Europe; or girls from Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Nepal sent to other Asian countries and even Middle Eastern countries like UAE (Dubai) for such evil purposes. The bottom line is that women all around the world on a daily basis go through all sorts of odious ordeals, in the form of rape, molestation by friends, family or complete strangers. Maybe it’s because of our vulnerable and gentle nature which is so easily exploited by men and even our fellow women.

I guess then maybe it is this vulnerability that made me become overwhelmed by a tremendous sense of pity and sympathy at that image of Strauss Kahn shuffled in hand-cuffs and looking all straggly, disheveled and despondent in court.  It is no wonder then, that the 62 year old has been placed on a suicide watch list at New York’s notorious Rikers Island prison where he has been remanded in custody, for having your whole world crashing before your very eyes is enough to turn the strongest person suicidal.

My emotions aside, he a suspect for now, and is presumed innocent until tried and found guilty. And in any case, I am learning these days to look at the general context of things, attempting to be objective before passing judgment. Therefore I am not dismissing the fact that as an erstwhile strong contender tipped to run for French presidency on the platform of the French Socialist Party, it could have been a set-up as is being reported in some quarters in order to ruin his political career or for other political reasons. An opinion poll conducted in France shows that more than half of the respondents, 57% believe Strauss-Kahn was the victim of a plot. Certain questions are also being raised like how come the maid was able to get access to his room while he was in the shower? Did he request for house-keeping or did she assume he had checked out? How come it took up to 12 hours after the incident before it was reported? How come all of a sudden, women who claim to have been assaulted or harassed by him previously like the French journalist, Tristane Banon never thought of going to the authorities until now? Many questions…whether that is the case or not, as it is now, his political career and prospects have been effectively neutralized.

That notwithstanding, we as women need to be vigilant, for despite advancements in ICT and other trappings of technology and progress in the modern era, the primitive, primeval and evil streak within some men still exist in various forms. Such perverse tendencies and desires have evolved along with the times, and we are still as vulnerable as we were decades ago. We should not allow or at least fight till our last breath to protect ourselves and the people around us from such traumatizing or even potentially fatal situations. And as for Dominic Strauss Kahn, as more details come out and the events unfolding confirm his innocence or guilt, the entire saga promises to be very drama-filled.