“Globalisation” means different things to different people. To some it means the ever-widening reach of multinational companies, such as Coca-Cola to market their products; to others it conjures up images of the dumping of bales of “mitumba1 in the third world, to still others it represents the ever-increasing domination of Western culture.
WAJIBU discussed the issue of globalisation with Sunny Bindra. Sunny Brinda is a management consultant by profession but writes passionately on a wide variety of social and moral issues. Below are the thoughts we gleaned from him on the subject.
Sunny Bindra as discussed with G. Wakuraya Wanjohi

Globalisation has been blamed wrongly

It is true that most of us, when we hear the term “globalisation,” tend to think primarily of the negative aspects of globalisation. We may think, for instance, of the economic dominance of western and American countries to set their own terms in global trade, their reluctance to do away with subsidies to their farmers with the result that third world farmers are unable to sell their products at a fair price. However, we should realize that these are the effects, not of globalisation as such, but of the unfair rules of trade made in the wake of globalisation. We should protest against these rules, not against the fact of globalisation.

The opening up of the world is good since it creates the possibility of cultural exchange with people of many different backgrounds. The breaking down of cultural barriers as a result of globalisation should be looked upon positively. In the absence of outside cultural influences cultures tend to stagnate, giving rise to intellectual inbreeding. The closing of borders against outside influences, like China did at one time, is not a good thing. There should be no restriction of choice or freedom.

Globalisation has the potential for good, provided our policies are right
We have the tendency to blame globalisation for some of the things that we are seeing around us in Kenya: the rich have become richer, the poor poorer and there is an increase in insecurity and violence. However, what we should realise is that these conditions are not the result of globalisation as such. Rather, the blame should be put where it belongs: on the lack of enlightened economic growth policies and of policies that enable the poor to earn a decent living. That this is the case is evident when we compare ourselves with countries like China and India. When, in the last two decades of the previous century, they decided to participate actively in the global economy, their poverty levels went down drastically: in China from an estimated 26 per cent to nine per cent and in India from over 50 per cent to 26 per cent.

Minimising the detrimental environmental effects of growth

The environment has always been used for economic gain. Our forefathers did it for centuries – but they understood the idea of natural balance. However, in the more complex world in which we now live we need more rules to safeguard the environment. Do not blame globalisation if growth results in harm to the environment. Rather, blame the lack of environmental impact assessment procedures prior to the setting up of an industry (obviously not to be carried out by the company involved). At present, what happens? Take the case of the importation of second-hand cars: the harm that they are doing to the environment is not taken into account in setting their price. One could take another example: prawn farming for export at the coast may be an attractive option at first sight. But what harm will this do the mangrove forests? Will the quality be comparable to that of fresh prawns from the ocean? We have to be able to weigh environmental harm against economic gain in an intelligent fashion. Such questions must be asked prior to any new venture that can impact adversely on the environment. Otherwise, harm to the environment will definitely occur.

The importance of corporate social responsibility

The ever-increasing power of multinational enterprises has been cited as another reason why one should oppose globalisation. They have, in many cases, been responsible for a number of negative factors: exploitation of workers, harm to the environment. Yet, because of the increasing power of international lobby groups, one observes that at present in Kenya it is actually local industries that are more exploitative than the multinationals. Local industries have not been subjected to the same public pressure as the multinationals because of less awareness on these matters. What is needed is legislation to curb their power as well as more pressure by local civic organizations. But many corporations do see that it is in their long-term enlightened self- interest to have environment-friendly and worker-friendly industrial policies. They ought not to raise an artificial barrier between themselves and the community. Sustainability is in the interest of everyone, including profit seekers.

The problem with multinationals is that their chief executives are usually appointed in a particular area for a short time only, after which they are transferred to a different place. In that short time they must try to maximize profits for the company and of course their own promotion depends on how well they do for the company. There is often the incentive to maximise short-term benefits rather than build a resilient company for the future.

Where companies have seen the wisdom of enlightened self-interest they have prospered. Take the example of Magadi Soda. They have almost taken the place of the Government in the area where they operate and their presence has greatly benefited the community. They have provided infrastructure and even schools. If one should ask the community whether they would prefer government services as opposed to those of the company there would be no doubt about their answer.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of self-seeking behaviour by companies. Look at what they are doing in this time of famine in Kenya. If they wish to give assistance, the first thing they do is rush to the press and make sure that there is a government minister and TV cameras on hand to witness their magnanimity. This kind of cheap publicity seeking makes one doubt their commitment to long-term solutions.

Our problem in the face of globalisation: lack of deeply held values
Another objection that may be brought against globalisation is that it appears to be linked with individualism, consumerism and greed and therefore we should reject it. Obviously, this argument does not hold water: these values are not inherent in the system. If we indeed care about the poor, there is no alternative to economic growth. Growth is necessary for there must be something to share. In Kenya the greatest problem is the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, the lack of pro-poor policies, even under this new government. This in spite of the many promises made to them.

Our biggest problem is the lack of deeply held values. We often hear it said that the values of hospitality and sharing were ingrained in traditional Africa. The question we must ask is: how did these values become unravelled so quickly? Why did our leaders at independence not make great efforts to inculcate the traditional values in the population? What do we find instead? We have become world leaders in greed and corruption. Violence is our answer to every problem we face. And if our leaders exemplify these values should we be surprised that our youth is so prone to this vice?
Let’s not take aim at the wrong target: globalisation is not the problem. If we hold high the values of sharing and of equal opportunities for all, we can share these values with the world.

All right thinking people are aware of the values needed to bring about a better world. These values are the same everywhere. But we do not want to face what we know down in our hearts is right. We lack the strength of character to resist the lure of greed.
It is up to us to use the opportunities that globalisation offers to make life better for our people. We have a choice: to use it for individual gain or to share it with all.

In summary

Globalisation is the wrong target. There is nothing wrong with increasing the array of choices available to our people. If, however, we choose to consume junk over nourishment, if we choose selfishness over sharing, if we choose to ignore the plight of the poor, if we choose to allow companies to operate without restriction – then the problem lies squarely with us – not with others. It is not outsiders who corrupt us. We do that to ourselves. With strong values and strong institutions we can face anything. Without them we will perish.

Notes: 1. Kiswahili for second-hand clothes
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