[Letters] Remember the poor at G-20

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[Letters] Remember the poor at G-20

For decades, the poor nations have been made to imagine that they belong to the “wretched of the world” category. It is a painful thought but it must be said anyway. Sitting through presentations and observing discussions at the just concluded Korea-World Bank High Level Conference, I could not help picturing the state of Korea when it belonged to the “wretched” category. But that was long before a miracle dawned on the Han River. Today, Korea has joined the newly industrialized countries after maintaining an outstandingly high economic growth in the last few decades. The Korea-World Bank conference in fact placed the country a ladder higher terming it as an advanced and high-income economy worth emulating.

While I do not dispute the economic development of this great nation, I have reservations of what it means to be economically successful vis-a-vis quality of human life. Failure to contextualize this success only leads to a narrow view of reality, for example from an economic rationalism viewpoint or seeing and pursing life primarily for economic worth but refusing to mention related and massive socioeconomic changes. Such transformations are often reflected in financial hardships, unhealthy competition, increased suicide and rising divorce rates, among others. Nonetheless, despite its share of challenges, Korea’s development in the recent past is laudable.

We read from historical facts how Korea survived on a begging bowl with more appetite than food; a typical phenomenon of Africa’s and South Asia’s poor. At present, with not only more food than appetite but also with a significant influence internationally, Korea can tolerably speak for the poor. More crucial is the Korea’s historical presidency of this year’s G-20 Summit on which the poor nations are pegging their hope. They hope that Korea has not forgotten the state of poverty it was in several decades ago and now reflected by the poor states. They are waiting to see if President Lee Myung-bak’s proposed agenda can go through implementation process with muscle enough to trickle down to them.

From the Korea?World Conference last week, two things, among others, caught my attention. First, that the developing nations matter at the international stage and rich nations actually need them for sustainable growth. Second, the era and the days of near imperialist International Financial Institutions (IFIs) are numbered. The time for their reformation is fast approaching. Reformed IFIs mean fair representation setting an environment for a win-win framework.

For instance, a coffee farmer on the slopes of Mt. Kenya or KwaZulu-Natal who toils all year round and sells quality beans for export may want his voice heard through fair representation at the WTO where policies determining world prices are crafted.

For the farmer’s sake, Korea must lead the surgery on the entire Bretton Woods institutions.

Meanwhile, on the development agenda Korea can already make a huge difference in inventing and advancing green technologies. Sharing these advancements with poor nations can help to counter the consequences of climate change of which the poor nations have been on the receiving end. Korea can also share its economic planning and infrastructure development strategies with deprived nations. Expanding its developmental aid for education and health fields would be another noble course to display responsibility.

Benson Kamary,

a Kenyan graduate school student at Kosin University, Busan. He is the leader of the South Africa Y-20 Summit - a JoongAng Ilbo sponsored student version of the G-20 Summit.
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