A Call for Courage: the Upcoming UN Summit on the Economic Crisis

07/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Kumi Naidoo Director, African Civil Society Initiative

I think what is keeping most of us occupied right now is the forthcoming summit at the UN in New York, later this month, which will be an important attempt to hammer a way out of the economic crises. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, along with other civil society partners, will be there demanding that civil society, and especially the poor and marginalized - those most affected by a crisis not of their own making - are not left out of the discussion.

In an article published in January of this year, Joseph Stiglitz related a testimony overhead during the Congressional hearings in Washington at the end of 2008. In examining the "belief that markets are self-adjusting and that the role of government should be minimal", Alan Greenspan observed out loud, "I have found a flaw"; a flawed economic philosophy, contained within a flawed worldview. A flawed ideology that made the path to today's crisis situation inevitable.

As we have heard from various groups, the financial and economic crisis is hitting the poor the worst. The poorest did not benefit from unregulated economic globalization. And unlike their Northern counterparts, their governments do not have the financial resources and access to credit necessary to shore up their banks and their domestic economies. And yet, they are forced to bear the brunt of the suffering. The adverse effects of these crises have already wiped out any progress made through implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

I think we need a realistic response in unrealistic times. Some powerful members of the G20 suggest that it would be "unrealistic" to achieve the transformations recommended by the Stiglitz Commission, but the global financial meltdown itself was deemed equally "unrealistic" less than a year ago, and the General Motors bankruptcy this week was also "unrealistic". They need to realize that their dismissal of "unrealistic" recommendations has some very real consequences for the vast majority of the world's population. Some 90 million people will join the ranks of the extremely impoverished this year alone.

I am deeply concerned that certain powerful member states are expressing their dissatisfaction of the UN process during the current Draft Outcome Document negotiations. The most influential members of the G20 are refusing to recognize the UN as the most appropriate forum for these discussions. The G20, convened by the most powerful member states, excludes 172 countries. It may have the de facto power to impose its decisions but lacks the legitimacy to do so. A failure to recognise the UN as the ultimate seat of political legitimacy at this crucial time would only reinforce the unsustainable status quo, while alienating hundreds of millions of people and their governments, who might then justifiably refuse to own global economic and social decisions made without their participation.

Let us urge, and expect governments, particularly the highly industrialised countries, to participate in the UN Summit at the highest level, and to strive in good faith and a spirit of cooperation for a regenerated economic and social system of global governance that places human rights at its core; a system that is truly democratic, inclusive, transparent and participatory, and fully accountable to all member states and the people they represent. They are, and will be held accountable for the level of courage and political will displayed at the UN Summit.