G20 summit: An art of mutual-deceit

US President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB

Watching Russian President Vladimir Putin uncharacteristically bent over double in his chair with laughter, with the United States of America’s President Donald Trump seated immediately next to him during a media conference at the just-concluded Group of Twenty Summit in the port city of Hamburg, Germany, l couldn’t help recalling one of my favourite Nigerian proverbs. The proverb, l am told, is credited to an anonymous tribe in Benue State; and it’s paraphrased thus: When laughter dominates a conference of two brothers, it’s a confirmation that the conferees are indulging in mutual-deceit; but harsh altercations ensue no sooner than the brothers start telling themselves the truth.

What depth of mutual-deceit would have caused a man decidedly incapable of exhibiting emotions to bend over double with laughter in public space? Call it a million dollar puzzle, if you please. Long before the former top KGB (USSR’s equivalent of the CIA) man came to the limelight, a British television broadcaster had aptly used those italicized words to describe England’s king-in-waiting, Prince Charles, during the globally-televised burial rites of the flamboyant Princess Diana. The sitting Russian president’s statuesque persona conveys the same message as the British royalty’s. In his over 20 years of very visible public life, it’s hard to recall another occasion when Putin had given more than his usual smirk, or what the British would call “plastic smile,” at best. Former U.S. President Barack Obama had described that statuesque image of Putin in less-than-flowery words. So, to see that half-man-half-granite figure bend over double with laughter is a sight worthy of sustained curiosity. (Great pity the media failed to capture the “alternative facts” that elicited that rare laughter – though, knowing the accomplished reality television billionaire’s renown for wisecracks, it’s possible to make intelligent guesses).

But these are times for sober reflections rather than wisecracks. The said proverb is a time tested maxim, of which the usually lavish G20 Summits provide an empirical example. Last year’s edition in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, like this year’s and other previous summits, had once again been dominated by chest-beatings and back-slapping for the most part, in self-glorification even in the face of human-induced threats to the beautiful blue-and-white planet. Like many a keen observer, l didn’t see the justification for that lavish self-praise by the 2016 conferees; and my subsequent article in this newspaper (G20 Summit: Saddling the right horse) summed up my reasons. I believe the thrust of those reasons is worth reiterating herewith; what with the insufferable repeat performance of the 2017 summit.
The four big issues threatening global stability today are:
Climate change; Refugee crisis; Terrorism and Proxy wars.

It is no longer open to debate that the U.S., Russia and their respective allies share the bulk of the blame for these threats. Their undifferentiated industrial expansionism, hand-in-glove with breathtaking development of toxins-billowing weapons manufacturing plants have eventually led to rapid depletion of the earth’s ozone-layer; a synonym for climate change. The cumulative effect of the aforesaid undifferentiated expansionism on global socio-economics has just been as devastating. The less developed countries (LDCs) became, for all intents and purposes, a dumping ground for all manner of industrial goods with inhibiting effect on the LDCs’ manufacturing capacity; thus was triggered the destabilising evil of unidirectional flow of global wealth. (This was the danger the famous British economist, John Maynard Keynes, had warned post-World War I leaders about; but like giddy goats, they were heedless. WWII was the result) In a manner resembling the earth’s rapidly depleting ozone-layer, rapidly disappearing economic opportunities in the LDCs in turn stoked massive cross-border movements of persons in search of the proverbial greener pastures.

Terrorism and proxy wars are very complex topics that would require whole textbooks for exhaustive discussion, but it suffices to say here that they are inextricably linked with the ongoing undifferentiated military-industrial expansionism, of which known singular objective is unbridled wealth accumulation. For example, the consequential cut-throat competition among industrialised countries for global markets (read spheres of influence) often results in senseless proxy wars and international calls, more like conspiracies, for regime change the LDCs (in sharp contrast to the United Nations Charter on the sovereignty of nations), both of which fuel terrorism. It is therefore tantamount to mutual-deceit or outright hypocrisy for the G20 nations to look past these known causes of global instability, and talk patronisingly of instituting policies that will improve the economic conditions of African countries; as indeed was the case in the Hamburg Summit. This is an unmitigated insult on the African intelligence; one wonders how the South African President Jacob Zuma could have sat uncomplainingly through the 2017 summit. I dare say the corruption-tainted president is not a worthy representative of the African continent.

The G20’s recurrent disposition on global challenges leaves much to be desired; it should, as a matter of great urgency, start paying a cost-reflective tariff for the toll it exacts on the rest of the world. What’s more troubling is to see the leaders of developing countries copying, warts and all, the notoriously flawed economic models of the G20 nations; when, in fact, they should have exhaustively interrogated the propriety, or otherwise of those economic models, and consequently present to the world a more inclusive, sustainable, and environmentally-sensitive economic models. This is not such a tall order for developing countries; or is it? For the immediate, however, leaders of frontline African countries, unlike their seemingly absent-minded South African colleague, should pluck up the courage to look their G20 counterparts in the eye, and tell them to stop indulging in the absurd game of mutual-deceit in their annual summits.

It is time the world’s leadership told itself the truth about the human condition…

• Nkemdiche is a consulting engineer in Abuja.

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