"The pen is mightier than the sword." For nearly a decade, Brahm has used newspaper articles, magazines and authored over 20 books to explain current affairs, reshape stalled negotiations, and provide a communication platform to Asian leaders and policymakers. His writings reveal underlying central challenges facing Asia over the past decades.

Voices of the Voiceless

Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by South China Morning Post on 11/29/2005

Every World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting is dominated by talk about promoting “free” trade as a panacea to solve the world’s problems. Meanwhile, the streets are filled with voices of international groups bent on economic and social action, crying out for an equitable trading system.

The discussions collapsed in Seattle and Cancun. Will a stalemate occur in Hong Kong? Listen to the voices in the street for an answer.

There is a huge gap between the objectives and perceptions of those in the ministerial meetings and the protesters barricaded outside. While protesters are often labeled anarchists, they claim the process occurring behind doors is undemocratic. The media regularly dismisses the protesters as the “anti-globalisation” movement, and asks why anybody would be against something as good as globalization and free trade.

France’s trade minister, Christine Lagarde, recently noted: “Trade alone will not lift developing countries out of poverty. Access to health care is also important.”

She added that the agenda of the current Doha Development Round of trade talks “should serve as an opportunity to deliver a legal framework allowing poor countries without manufacturing capacities access to affordable pharmaceuticals”.

So maybe the protesters are not really against globalisation, since they support the globalisation of pharmaceuticals. In fact, they embrace the very tools of globalisation: mobile phones and the internet.

But does globalisation mean peaceful global co-operation among governments to curb global warming, extend health care, wipe out Aids and close the gap between rich and poor? Or does it mean one or two nations ramming a set of economic and political rules and religious morality down everyone else’s throats?

Yes, “anti-globalization” is a misnomer. Using that epithet – stressing the negative “anti” – against these broad-based international action groups is an easy way to discredit what may be rapidly becoming a truly global people’s democratic movement. As the movement grows, it presents a new face of democracy.

Transnational coalitions have emerged linking non-governmental organizations that have shared social and economic concerns. But are they being sidelined by systems that claim to be democratic? Maybe that is why they have no choice but to take their grievances to the street.

This growing movement incorporates different interest groups with their own agendas – but similar concerns. Moreover, the interests within this broad coalition are excluded from participating in the policy decision-making that affects the communities they represent.

Maybe some fear that if they called the “ anti-globalization ” movement by a label that omitted the “anti” tag, it might accord them legitimacy. This grass-roots force is in a way protesting against certain institutions that, by their nature, are not terribly democratic.

Meanwhile, economic theorists produce formulas far removed from the realities in the countries they are supposed to be helping. And the groups that do not benefit – and are disadvantaged as a result – do not have any voice in the process.

But you will hear their voices, beyond the lines of police guarding the Wan Chai waterfront. They will insist on making themselves heard. Relegated to being outside the very process that will affect their livelihoods, do they have any choice?

The media that dismisses these coalitions as mere “anti- globalization ” unfairly prejudices and marginalizes them, fuelling their anger. The WTO process needs reform, to become open and transparent. If the WTO is to achieve its stated objectives legitimately, these voices will need to be heard.

Laurence Brahm is a global activist, international mediator, political columnist and author. He is the leading advocate of a fresh development paradigm - The Himalayan Consensus - an innovative approach to development.

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