Sunday, May 20, 2007

Anti-globalization across the Globe

The recent controversy over Paul Wolfowitz's alleged favoritism towards his companion and bank employee Shaha Riza, has prompted the Board of Directors to ‘broaden and lengthen its investigation’ into Mr Wolfowitz's conduct to cover other issues, such as his alleged attempt to curb the Bank's support of contraception in Africa.

Many believe that the World Bank's problems and the problems of the IMF
run deeper. While the lapse in internal governance that has been brought to light in this affair is worrying, the undemocratic process by which these administrative position s are allocated in even more worrying.

Perhaps the greatest cause for concern is that the two institutions are just not representative of the world. The two documentaries suggested by Professor
Ngaire Woods show that the policies adopted by the World Bank and the IMF towards developing countries, which have translated into the conditions imposed on them in return for development assistance, have done very little good to the economies of these countries. The focus has been more on securing access to their markets for western products, and access to valuable natural resources, than on helping them towards development.

Bamako, by Mauritanian-Malian director Abderrahmane Sissako, is described as "a film about the devastating effects of World Bank and IMF policies imposed on African countries." One strand of the film follows the story of a couple, the wife a bar singer, the husband out of work, whose marriage is heading for the rocks; the other strand involves a mock trial in the shared courtyard where African civil society has put the World Bank and the IMF in the dock for having reduced African countries to extreme penury. A short analysis of various other issues addressed by the film can be found

Bamako, which won critical acclaim in the Cannes Film Festival in May 2006, and has received fairly extensive
coverage at the London Film Festival, is a film with a specific purpose viz. to make these two institutions and the western governments take notice of the plight African countries have been reduced to in their scramble to fulfil the conditions attached to development assistance and to repay the loans owed to these institutions. The film's website hosts the Bamako petition, which directs specific pleas to the UK government officials.

Life and Debt, directed by Stephanie Black, is also about the impact of World Bank and IMF policies, but in another geographical location - Jamaica. Based on the award winning text,

A Small Place, by Jamaica Kincaid, the film, its website indicates, "is a woven tapestry of sequences focusing on the stories of individual Jamaicans whose strategies for survival and parameters of day-to-day existence are determined by the USand other foreign economic agendas. (A full synoposis is available here)

Through these snapshots it builds up a picture of the irony of Jamaica’s turn to the IMF – former Prime Minister Michael Manley, who for want of an alternative, signed Jamaica’s first loan agreement with the IMF in 1977 one year after he was elected on a non IMF platform; and the impact of this upon its economy. The
film's website reports:

“At present Jamaica owes over $4.5 billion to the IMF, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) among other international lending agencies yet the meaningful development that these loans have "promised" has yet to manifest. In actuality the amount of foreign exchange that must be generated to meet interest payments and the structural adjustment policies which have been imposed with the loans have had a negative impact on the lives of the vast majority. The country is paying out increasingly more than it receives in total financial resources, and if benchmark conditionalities are not met, the structural adjustment program is made more stringent with each re-negotiation. To improve balance of payments, devaluation (which raises the cost of foreign exchange), high interest rates (which raise the cost of credit), and wage guidelines (which effectively reduce the price of local labor) are prescribed. The IMF assumes that the combination of increased interest rates and cutbacks in government spending will shift resources from domestic consumption to private investment. It is further assumed that keeping the price of labor down will be an incentive for increasing employment and production. Increased unemployment, sweeping corruption, higher illiteracy, increased violence, prohibitive food costs, dilapidated hospitals, increased disparity between rich and poor characterize only part of the present day economic crisis.”

Jamaica appears to be only different in its details from that of the other countries of the developing world.

It is only fair to mention many of its viewers (
1, 2) feel Life and Debt is more appropriately characterized at an excellent polemic rather than a documentary. This is not a criticism of the film, Life and Debt is unapologetically, a tale told from a particular point of view. Its strength in is the evidence it provides to back up its claims, and in its capacity to disturb its intended audience – the First World.

Another documentary, Dolls and Dust, examines the impact of industrial restructuring, globalisation and "mal(e)-development" on women workers in three Asian countries – Sri Lanka, Thailand and Korea. The documentary is a record of testimonies taken from working women over a two-year period, in which they speak about the effect that World Bank and the IMF policies have had on their lives, their communities and the environment.

In a review of films dealing with feminism, women workers and globalization
’, Professor Jean Grossholtz states:

“Dolls and Dust is a detailed description of the effects of globalization on women in Sri Lanka,Thailand and Korea. The different experiences of women in these cultures and countries are made clear while we are shown in intimate detail the painful similarities of their plight under the neoliberal trade system….The film shows women workers and union organizers… struggling against the effects of neoliberal economics, debt, and structural adjustment. … driven off the land and out of their villages by World Bank and corporate economic development projects … Mobilized into a new work force employed by companies that make export goods for transnational corporations, … the world's cheapest labor force. …
This film presents a firsthand look at the period of the "Asian miracle" and how it went bust from the point of view of the neglected community -- women. It is a remarkable document, accessible and useful both to those who have knowledge of the World Bank and to those ignorant of its work. … Anyone who does not understand the fuss in Seattle, Prague, Quebec, Genoa, and Qatar could do well to look at this film.”

The 60 minute documentary was produced by regional NGO,
Committee for Asian Women, and researched and directed by alternative communication group, Wayang. It was selected as an award-winning entry from Asia during the 4th International VideOlympiade held in Cape Town, South Africa (September 18-21, 1998).

for the third global institution, the World trade Organization, an excellent insight into its lop-sided operation is provided by Dr Woods herself, in a radio documentary composed for BBC Chanel 4. Titled ‘War by Other Means’ the documentary was broadcast in two parts. In the first, ‘ A tour into the secretive world of trade negotiations’, current and former negotiators provide a window into what really goes on behind the closed doors at WTO meetings – complete with frank details about the arm twisting and pressure tactics levied on the smaller players by the big powers. To quote from the BBC excerpt:

“They're bullies, (one former Brazilian official says of trade negotiators from the big economies). They say you might as well sign here. Or this is good for you and you don't know anything. Sign here and keep your mouth shut.”

Part 2, the ‘
Inside story of the uprising at Cancun 2003’, explores the change in manner in which negotiations were conducted. Effectively for the first time, the developing countries were collectively holding out for a fair deal, and were willing to walk out without striking any deal at all, if they they could not get a fair one. This despite open threats such as that from US Senator Grassley who said he would use his position to “carefully scrutinize” how countries behaved in CancĂșn. The US evaluates potential partners for free trade agreements on an ongoing basis,” he said. “I'll take note of those nations that played a constructive role in CancĂșn, and those nations that didn't.”

Thus in a sense the failure of the Cancun round was due to an apparent shift in the bargaining positions between the developed and developing countries, unaccompanied by a corresponding shift in the willingness of the developed quad (US, EU, Canada, Japan) to compromise. However, the documentary also cautions that the clear divide between the developed west and the developing rest is a myth. Countries like Brazil and India, have a foot in either camp, and China, the ‘sleeping giant’ is poised to become the largest economy in the world. Third world countries acknowledge that the interests of these players are not perfectly aligned with their own – at present it is pragmatism that keeps these countries bound together, but different incentives could well lead to different alliances.

The documentary explores these issues and more in its total run time of 45 minutes. It expressly asks, and leaves you wondering, whether the failure at Cancun is just evidence of the increasing moribundity of the WTO, which like its other sisters, the World Bank and the IMF, is based on power equations that appear outdated.

No comments: