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2020 – Systems failure in the global village

By J Boima Rogers
04 January 2021   |   3:05 am
The remarkable point about the year 2020 is how things have unravelled in our interconnected village. Centre stage is of course COVID-19 which is buffeting all corners but other factors have also hit us.

[FILES] A health worker sorts blood samples for Covid-19 vaccination study at the Center for Pediatrics Infectology Studies (CEIP) where the pharmaceutical company Janssen, of Johnson & Johnson, is developing the phase 3 study of the vaccine in Cali, Colombia on November 26, 2020. – The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified 48 “candidate vaccines” at the stage of clinical trials in humans by mid-November, but only 11 at the most advanced Phase 3 stage. The WHO has identified another 164 vaccine projects that are still in the pre-clinical phase of development. (Photo by Luis ROBAYO / AFP)

The remarkable point about the year 2020 is how things have unravelled in our interconnected village. Centre stage is of course COVID-19 which is buffeting all corners but other factors have also hit us.

COVID-19 has cast a shadow on everything we do all over the world, with health, economies, relationships within and between countries, and the latest development, new strains of the virus, causing borders being slammed shut. Systems failure has occurred partly because, in the case of COVID-19, nature is to blame; but its occurrence and spread have a lot to do with society and politics.

Other forms of turbulence are entirely to do with homo sapiens and our failures, notable failures in the key drivers in our global village, namely, America, Europe, and China. As noted in my previous reports, China and America bear the brunt of the blame for the pandemic, the former where it started for not being open about it and both for playing it down; America for not using its (superpower status) resources, notably its enormous technological capacity to quell the pandemic as it did with the Ebola pandemic a few years earlier. In our global village, developments in the key drivers play prominent roles in shaping the lives of all of us and significant failures have made 2020 a difficult and perverse year with tougher times ahead unless there are realignments in the body politiques, leaderships, and policies.

Four years ago, America elected a man who is totally unfit to lead the superpower, a decision that has had enormous adverse repercussions for the country and world. These repercussions, which were evident in Trump’s campaign subsequently evolved into a series of nightmare scenarios. He was only interested in America and only the 40% of Americans who support him, laying waste to the country and the world through his myopic “vision”, incompetence and lack of interest in the job other than promoting the Trump brand.

This situation is the ultimate system failure at several levels, posing questions on how America got to such a state. How can America elect such a man as president? How can the majority of Republicans, including highly educated, intelligent, and experienced (Republican) leaders dismiss the will of the people, accept unverified statements (lies) about the recent presidential election results and countenance the continuation of his leadership and/or his re-election in 2024?

Systems failure includes Trump’s assault on democracy (constant lies, impeachment, attacks on the press, judiciary, etc.) throughout his reign, his rejection of defeat, and failure to implement a seamless transfer of power in the country that has played a pivotal role in the development of the modern democratic process has a robust democratic infrastructure (independent press, judiciary, and bureaucracy) and promoted democracy around the world. Another level of system failure is the fact that the country that leads the world in terms of medical science and innovation, notably, leading universities and the majority of prizes won by its scientists, total spend and proportion of its GDP on health can have the worst COVID-19 record. It is perverse that the country that has the leading economy and leading economists (and universities) can have the worst economic meltdown – under Obama, the US came out of the recession faster and stronger than most other advanced economies and played the leading role in suppressing the Ebola epidemic. It is perverse that the most technologically advanced country, with the leading technology brands, would have been so comprehensibly infiltrated (hacked), presumably by a technological minion under Trump’s watch, an issue he has ignored as he did when bounties were placed on US soldiers in Afghanistan. Trump has even disagreed with his officials, including his Secretary of State on the perpetrators of the hack.

The other key driver in the global village, Europe, has also demonstrated systems failure, notably Brexit, issues with its latest budget relating to the rule of law (democracy) in some member states, (Poland and Hungary) and COVID-19 where it has the second worse record. The departure of the UK from the European Union (EU) project this year demonstrates a significant system failure, a divorce by a leading member, willing to forego the benefits of the largest and richest club in the world, even though both sides are hailing the recent agreement because it avoids the feared tariffs. That “success” may be illusory because the EU is losing a major player; economists have forecasted slower economic growth initiatives for both the UK and the EU; there will be costly bureaucratic hurdles; the deal has rather skimpy details on the services sector which make up the bulk of the GDP and trade between both parties and; no doubt there will be commercial and government preferential treatments on both sides that will in effect amount to non-tariff barriers to trade. As noted in a previous paper of mine, the EU will be losing a country that played a significant role in pushing for a more liberal union with regards to the economy and democracy in the face of moves by countries that are inclined to more illiberal tendencies. Finally, as a significant net contributor to the EU budget, the coffers are thinner with the UK’s departure. The EU needs to examine how Brexit came about and how it can avoid other members from following suit.

The EU has also had a major issue in finalising its budget because it included democratic riders aimed at preventing members from moving towards authoritarianism as Poland and Hungary have been trending. While the club started off as a move to integrate the economies of Europe, a major underlying theme was the development of a body that would be an antidote to fascism which led to the Second World War and subsequently communist authoritarian rule. Since its inception political and judicial measures have reinforced that theme. Interestingly, the EU welcomed central and east European countries that were keen to move out of the authoritarian grip of the Soviet Union, showered them (and continue to do so) with huge subsidies and other economic benefits. In the last few years, Poland and Hungary have taken sharp turns to the right, away from the democratic premise that underpins the EU. While the impasse has been moved over to the EU’s top court, with both parties claiming victory, the issue has not been resolved. The question is how can countries that came out of the yoke of authoritarian Soviet rule join a liberal democratic club which they have benefited from immensely veer towards right-wing authoritarianism? How can they be made to realign to the liberal democratic norms that underpin the club?

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Europe very hard, second to the US in terms of a total number of infections and deaths per capita despite having some of the best health infrastructure and total and per capita health expenditure, with Italy, UK, and France leading in terms of deaths and infections. The question is how did COVID-19 hit Europe so hard, given this remarkable health resource and track record?

China, the super-power in waiting has demonstrated system failure in two aspects, namely, COVID-19 and Hong Kong. COVID-19 started in the country and could have been contained at an early stage and not allowed to spread to the rest of the world if the country had been open about it and allowed its scientists to take the leading and appropriate measures at the onset. The country has jailed the trailblazing journalist Zhang Zhan for her critical reports on COVID-19 in Wuhan in February 2019. China has enacted draconian laws relating to Hong Kong and encouraged and/or ordered Hong Kong authorities to take measures against democratic activists in the territory. For a country that prides itself as in control of the vagaries of life including health, it’s handling of COVID-19 represents system failure. The question is how can China expect to take the mantle of superpower status when it has demonstrated such ineptness in handling a pandemic with regards to its spread within the country but even more important across the globe in a situation where it plays an increasing role as the key global player on a variety of fronts? For a country that has been positioning itself as calm and grown-up, able and willing to take global leadership in the face of the Trump turbulence and chaos China’s handling of both issues represents system failure. On Hong Kong, the question is how can China expect to win over the people of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the world when it has taken such a ham-fisted approach, particularly as this is in contravention of the “one country two systems” pledge it gave to the UK when Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty?

To be continued tomorrow
Rogers is the principal consultant of Media and Event Management Oxford (MEMO).

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