I AM struck by how much our world has shrunk and how rapidly we are being forced to think globally and act locally. Various factors are driving this agenda — the information and communication technology (ICT) revolution which shows no signs of slowing down. We can now carry in our pockets small machines that operate on minute amounts of energy and yet give us instant access to global information and an uncanny ability to communicate.
Opinion by Eddie Cross
We watch the extreme weather in all areas of the globe and are suddenly aware that the talk of global warming and climate change is not a scientific fantasy. We see the massive response in India to the death of a student raped and beaten on a bus just because she was a woman and we suddenly appreciate that we are all linked by common humanity and values.
If we just look at these three elements we can see how they are moulding the world that we live in and are engineering our response. In the Middle East the information revolution has initiated a political revolution that will, in time, transform the political and economic lives of hundreds of millions of people. Like the outpouring of anger in India, this process had been founded in the growing education of the ordinary people and their access to cheap means of communication. Against this tide, powerful ruling oligarchies have found themselves helpless to oppose the demands imposed on them.
In Africa, the absolute poor have discovered they can communicate without travel or beating drums. A cell phone in Zimbabwe can cost US$15 and a new SIM card for as little as 50 US cents. Such a service even five years ago was unthinkable. Now we have more than one cell phone per capita. My son has a Kindle — instant access to the libraries of the whole world.
We watch the storms that are ravishing the United States. We see the drought in parts of India and Africa and over large swathes of Australia. We monitor the melting ice flows in the north and south, see open sea channels where previously there was only ice and we ask ourselves what does it mean for us? Then we are told that the rainfall in the Umzingwane catchment area where five of our six dams are located has declined 15% over the past century and run-off by 24%.
Suddenly the dams — built in the last century with an estimated sustainable yield of 136 mega litres per day, can only supply 76 Ml/day. Our taps are dry and something we have taken for granted for decades is no longer available or affordable. We are in a crisis caused by others many thousands of kilometers away.
I go into my constituency to speak to a meeting and find they have automatically divided the men from the women. The men sitting on what chairs are available and the women on the floor, no one thinks there is anything strange about this arrangement. But their children are growing up in a different world where women are being educated and informed of how women are treated elsewhere in the world. The next generation will not accept such automatic classification.
In India where women are also treated as minors all their lives and are not given certain rights, a new generation is emerging with university degrees and smart clothes. Their new independence and libertarian values are deeply resented by their male counterparts who see them as a threat. In many ways it’s a form of racism.
In the era when racist politics dominated southern Africa I often observed it was those who felt threatened by people of color with education and ability, who adopted the most racist attitudes and were used by the political parties to buttress their grip on power.
What is so fascinating about this whole process is that it is so democratic — it is being translated into popular action that those in political control are finding it difficult to control and manage. However, the outcomes are often chaotic. Images of people rioting in Delhi, the ongoing war in Syria, the paralysis in Egypt; but I see it as a hopeful development for the world. Suddenly we are all part of a global whole, with many common interests that transcend our local interests and concerns.
The key is how to translate these global concerns into forms of local interest. We need to understand when the changes in the global climate mean the southern regions of Zimbabwe become drier and many districts become semi-desert, the blame does not only lie in the countries with belching smoke stacks, but also here in the sweeping fire storms that rage across the country every winter. These have become much worse since the destruction of commercial agriculture.
No one to cut or maintain fire breaks, no teams to respond to fires with tractors and sprays; few cattle to eat the grass which now simply burns each winter and serves to make us one of the great polluters. Anyone who doubts the scale of this phenomenon just needs to witness the savage red sunsets of our winter and see the scale of smoke pollution here where there are no smokestacks or coal-fired power stations. When we protest the water shortages we need to campaign for fire controls.
We need to use the simple cheap means of communications that we have today to fight the tyranny of a regime that limits our freedoms and information flows. We need to empower the poor so that when a military unit or the local police abuse their rights, they can instantly communicate that to a watching and caring world. Just watch the way the opposition in Syria is communicating the activities of the regime on a daily basis. The regime bans the media, closes down the internet but still the information comes out — almost instantly. No longer can a regime abuse its people in secret.
Then finally the plight of women on a global basis; for some reason all religions except Judaism and Christianity, suppress the rights of women. Now across the world, driven by globalisation and the ICT revolution as well as the continued emphasis on education, these changes are giving women the means and the tools to fight back. I have watched our society trying to find its feet on this issue for over 50 years. Little progress has been made in all that time, now the global system is taking action on its own and we either go with the flow or face the consequences down the road.
In my own life I have tried to be on the side of what I felt was the right — somehow it has always felt like being always in opposition. But in the end it is the right thing to do and being on the right side of history is what it is all about.
- Cross is MDC-T MP for Bulawayo South. This article first apppeared on his blog eddiecross.africanherd.com.