New Wine in Old Wine Skin

Christ with with Abbot Mena Egyptian Icon

The London Guardian of September 2, 2015 makes a case for a Republic of Wellbeing. The author imagines a society that will emerge when the nations of the world gather in New York this September to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN post-2015 development agenda. The big assumption in this hypothesis is that the business corporations and governments will be of one heart and one soul in changing the present world economic structures to ones that will put human needs and the care of the earth at the centre. The index for measuring a country’s economy would then move from GDP/GNP to the wellbeing of humans and the ecosystem. However, the author observes, and rightly too, that the single factor that will constitute a major obstacle to the new republic will be the diehard habit of business corporations of polluting good, humane initiatives.


The habit has already reared its ugly head in the outcome of the so-called "Addis Ababa Action Agenda". This was a meeting held in Ethiopia in July on Financing for Development (FfD). The AAAA was far from ambitious in its plan to transform the structures of poverty into structures of life for humans and the earth.  The international community had hoped that an ambitious outcome would be a major driver for the realization of post-2015 SDGs and a pointer to the COP21 in Paris. The failure to produce an ambitious strategy is an indication that the UN is presenting her new wine in old wine skin and your guess as to what will happen to the post-2015 SDGs is as good as mine. The cabal of the business world has once again asserted its power. It has to be said, though, that the outcome did not come as a surprise to the NGOs because the heart of the business corporations was pumping in its habitual way throughout the meeting.


A friend of mine once quipped angrily about the situation, "Why would someone be so blind to the plight of the poor in the name of business?”  My answer was simple and straight- forward.  It is all about the narrow understanding of economics that sees it in terms of production, exchange of goods and services, competition for scarce resources and profit making without limits. Tim Jackson, a British ecological economist, surgically analyses the situation in his book, Prosperity without Growth. It is a situation where every nation wants to achieve infinite economic growth in a world where the base resources are limited. The result is a human race threatened with self-destruction through a glaringly unsustainable set of choices. Of course, it is the poorest nations that bear the brunt! Jackson defiantly hits the nail on the head, "Questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries. But question it we must."


However, in its original and broader sense, economics is the distribution of the earth's resources for the sustenance of the ecosystem. It is characterized by a synergy involving the non-human and human communities of the ecosystem; hence the original sense of economy (oikonomia). Pope Francis in his last encyclical paternally puts it in these words, “We need nature and we need each other.” The purpose of economics then is to enhance the quality of all human life lived in an interdependent relationship with the rest of creation. To act otherwise is a grave injustice, yet this is the path that the EU has etched in her trade with Africa.


A good example is the strategy the EU has employed in dealing with African migrants. Rather than address the structures of poverty which are the root causes of forced migrations, the EU has resorted to strengthening her borders. Closely connected to the structures of poverty is the economic partnership agreement (EPA) between the EU and the different regions of Africa. The EU has arm-twisted the East African Community to sign the pact and Tanzania is presently in serious contestation with the so-called trade agreement. The same is about to happen to ECOWAS but for now a number of ECOWAS countries led by Nigeria have abstained from signing the EPAs because the trade agreement in its present form will lead to the total bazaar of the resources of the region. An Action Aid and Justice Network Africarecent research shows that Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal alone are losing up to S5.8 billion on tax holidays for the corporations and it is speculated that if the rest of ECOWAS suffer corresponding losses of their GDP, the gross revenue loss among the 15 ECOWAS states would amount to S9.6billion. This excludes tax incentive agreements through the back door. What will happen when the EPAs become operational is anybody’s guess.


Thus, the hypothetical society envisaged by the London Guardian will remain just what it is - a dream at the end of an endless tunnel - if the UN continues to present her roadmap for the realization of Post-2015 SDGs as a new articulation in the old mould, i.e. if the existing economic structure is not deconstructed and restructured. New wine in old wine skins is instantly corrupted; new wine in a new wine skin is the only promise of a radical departure from the old and the advent of something authentically brand-new. 

Go back