Davos: Bastion for Twisted Transnational Encounters

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Davos: Bastion for Twisted Transnational Encounters

  • January 23, 2020
  • By Admin: Osman
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By Abdulkadir Osman Farah, PhD 

A prominent social thinker once rhetorically enquired “what is the purpose of exploring outer planets, while we remain oblivious to the needs and aspirations within our own planet”. Correspondingly, if most of the world confronts existential conundrum, what is the point of the world’s most affluent inhabitants encountering Davos. In the words of the EU Commission President- they are there to “avert conflicts, start business and finish disputes”[i].

Global summits such as the UN, the G7 and G20 occur routinely. We also see recurring regional summits influencing global order and development. However, with specific economic focus, informality and elite driven programs, the Davos gathering seems pretentious. As states dispatch delegates for networking and branding, so far, no obvious ideological friction exists among participants. Here Chinese and Russian delegates amicably rub shoulders with American and British counterparts. Once the gathering received Chinese president as a celebrity, underlining China’s growing global hard and soft power.

Since ancient times, transnational elites assembled in the form of royals, aristocracies and dynasties. When imperial regimes emerged, new forms of transnational structures inaugurated colonizing ruling elites. Such elites roamed different parts of the world- jointly or separately subjugating diverse peoples. The latest is the emergence of the so-called “transnational oligarchs”. This type of a transnational class not only appropriates and consolidates enormous private wealth, but occasionally also manipulates political identity formations that generate and sustain such capital concentration. This class brings together groups of people with different ideologies, ethnicities and backgrounds. With the means to framing and maintaining power in the global economic, political, cultural and social spaces, the prime concerns for such oligarchs rest not on nurturing global stability, but rather on the preservation of elite performances and well-being.

As accustomed every year, the world’s current so-called transnational class congregate in Davos- a small Swiss Alps town. Fifty years ago, in 1971, a German academic convened the first of such conference. Apart from its magic mountains, Davos was known for its tuberculosis sanatoriums[ii]. Obviously, the current luxury adapted profiles might not know the mundane past of their now exclusive hosting town. Participation requires extravagant membership fees. Unaffordable for the most, the alternative is to obtain a restricted formal invitation from the hosts; World Economic Forum (WEF)[iii]. Among such annual guests include a circumspect selection of African and Middle Eastern countries. This year, a minister and accompanying delegation arrived from Lebanon. The Middle Eastern country struggles with ongoing tension and popular uprising against sustained governmental corruption. WEF also extended invitation to the leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A fragile state with enormous resources and incongruous host of numerous foreign multi-nationals[iv]. From Africa, Ghanaian and Angola leaders also join the transnational feast. Similar to Congo, both countries attract multi-national investments, particularly in the extraction of globally precious resources[v].       

Scholars often designate people gathering in Davos as “transnational actors”, “transnational networks” or “transnational elites”. The most critical studies deploy the analytical concept of “transnational capitalist class” describing them as a class of people neither categorically belonging to the national, nor international but increasingly transnational. Such social classes have often their own separate maps of the world. A map showing the dynamics of their personal economic enterprises and interests. This privileged social group do not fully control or yet able to replace existing state mechanisms- nor are they willing to ignore the prevailing national or international platforms. Nonetheless, due to their resources and networks the elites exert enormous supranational influences in how not just single countries and regions operate- but also how the world system in general functions[vi]

Despite this, elites might due to civic pressures allow certain rudimentary changes. In connection with the 50th commemorations, for instance, WEF placed the threatening climate change high in the agenda and called for the resistance of protectionism as well as the prevention of tax evasion. This indicates that, despite commonalities, the elites remain far from homogeneous and some might recognize existing global imbalances and unfairness”[vii]. Somewhat dialectical to the elites, one finds protesting transnational civic organizations demonstrating in Davos demanding more equal and fairer world.

Consequently, we can differentiate three perspectives on how we should understand the role and the activities of the transnational elite. First, the idea that Davos and the people who gather there represent a necessity for the global economy. Such elites remain instrumental in the pursue of stable global economic growth as well as the liberalization of economic opportunities. In return, obtained prosperity reinforces foreign policy initiatives and the presentation of peaceful trade-oriented international relations. In other words, the elites remain significant for the “wealth of nations”. 

Second, economic prosperity and development remains the basis for states and their international relations. States therefore need not just international connections (economic and policy frameworks) but also transnational connections where they practice a mixture of formal and informal gatherings in engaging diverse networks across the world. Davos is therefore essential space for discussing and promoting a country’s position and strength in the world- especially for powerful countries.

Third, though partially agreeing with certain beneficial aspects of existing and emerging financial enterprises, the world needs monitoring institutions that could prevent abuse and transgression- especially in situations where the overemphasis of economic growth crowds out the environment and the well-being of the most vulnerable inhabitants of the world. For instance, Civic humanitarian organizations participating in Davos highlight that “world’s billionaires have more wealth than 4.6 billion people”. “Women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day —a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry”. They propose the collective prevention of transnational tax evasion and the allocation of more resources for public services

Another sustainable solution could be an extroverted collective transnational empowering of the most subordinate. Since WWII many regions, Europe and North America, were empowered and prospered. Countries like China, India and some other Asians have been also gradually empowered and are now increasingly self reliable- enabling them to project their wishes globally. Latin America is also closer. Africa is the remaining vital region to still fully liberate itself and prosper. Instead of been a producing and equally trading part of the world, a continent with most of known global resources[viii] is also currently one of the most consuming continents. Wealthier countries continue to extract resources and resell it as modified products for higher prices. Following its Brexit debacle, the UK will spend billions in the coming years for expanding what it calls trade with Africa[ix].  

In the book “Trans-nationalizing the Public Sphere” scholars Fraser and Nash call for the consolidation of genuine and fairer transnational public sphere. Without similar checks and balances that normally exist at the national level, they suggest, global elites will continue  dominating global markets and resources[x]. Transnational civic organizations also long and highlight such public sphere. Their annual reports document the challenge of nation-states and their elites utilizing the national, international and transnational contexts for competing and contradictory ways. The UN global compact also represents a potential collaborative forum for governments, transnational businesses and transnational NGOs for pursuing global sustainable development. The challenge of this kind of UN platform is that it is voluntary to join, mainly built on self-assessment whether people consign with agreed sustainable goals or not[xi]. Dislodged from concrete enforcing social and political institutions, so far, such attempts of transnational critical public sphere remains symbolic- if not superficial.          

[i] https://twitter.com/vonderleyen/status/1219344715558068225

[ii] https://www.economist.com/business/2020/01/16/can-the-world-economic-forum-keep-its-mojo

[iii] https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-51134164

[iv] https://www.iol.co.za/business-report/wef/african-leaders-readying-themselves-for-davos-2020-40632327

[v] https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2016/10/mapping-africa-natural-resources-161020075811145.html

[vi] Sklair, L. (2012). Transnational capitalist class. The Wiley‐Blackwell Encyclopedia of G https://twitter.com/ThomasPoggelobalization.

[vii] https://twitter.com/thomaspogge?lang=da

[viii] https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2016/10/mapping-africa-natural-resources-161020075811145.html

[ix] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-51149093


[xi] https://www.unglobalcompact.org/participation/join/commitment

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