The Political Lens for a Global Coronavirus Response

The need for a political lens on COVID-19 is a continuing theme of my commentaries these days. In this commentary, the political lens is applied to three aspects of recent efforts to mobilize a global response to the pandemic. The commentary starts first with an assessment of  the progress that is being made on the continuing challenge to get all the key actors together. This is followed, secondly, with an analysis of the unusual approach that is being taken to avoid forming any new entity to administer the global coordination. And third, it concludes with some reflections on the transformative implications of the unusual mix of different stakeholders that are actually getting together. My conclusion is that good things are happening on this issue. There is room for optimism that a collaborative approach will prevail against the “unilateralist” tendencies of the US (and even a few others). Perhaps it will even be transformative.  Continue reading “The Political Lens for a Global Coronavirus Response”

COVID-19 Needs a Political Lens as Well as a Scientific One

On tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and taking heart with the latest observations from Bill Gates, I can appreciate his point that it is « not timely » to engage in a blame game.  The pandemic is still not under control. We are in the midst of so much – saving lives, staying healthy, easing back into productive activities, avoiding a second or third wave, finding a vaccine or a cure, helping those who are in dire straits to have access (both to health care and to livelihoods generally), halting the looming famine where the pandemic has just taken off. So much needs to be done! We are advised that our attention is urgently needed to be focused in this time of crisis through what Mr. Gates describes as a “scientific” lens”, and not a “political” lens. Our resources, too.

I have great respect for Bill Gates and do agree with him that a full review of what has gone well and what has gone not gone well in the COVID-19 pandemic so far is better conducted at a much later date. Even the scientific lens on which we are relying is gathering such rapidly changing knowledge about the nature and impact of this virus that one really should wait for any critical scientific assessments until the pandemic is better controlled. Nonetheless, I would argue with the choice of descriptors. A “political” lens is urgently needed to complement the “scientific” one – not in terms of the “transmogrification” of the political world that we are enduring with ignorant populists like the current US or Brazilian presidents. But we need the perspectives of the political scientists, the philosophers, the ethicists, the humanists, if not also the globalists, the multilateralists and even the transcendentalists to guide us along with the scientists. We need this now. Not in some kind of future retrospective examination of how this pandemic has altered our sense of normalcy and decency.

One can identify a multiplicity of issues where such a political lens is urgently needed, even as we defer to and support the freedom for scientists to collaborate both globally and domestically in the search for COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. Here are four areas that call for our immediate attention: the human rights implications in contract tracing, the institutional framework for globally mobilizing the resources needed for a collaborative effort, the tension between intellectual property and access in determining how to share the innovations, and the accommodation for new combinations of multi-stakeholder collaboration. These issues are inter-related, but they arise in a cascading degree of urgency. All need to be viewed through a political lens as well as the scientific one. Continue reading “COVID-19 Needs a Political Lens as Well as a Scientific One”

Travel and Information Flows: Working WITH the World Health Organization

“As dangerous as it sounds.” These are the words that Bill Gates used to describe the blustering, thoughtless announcement by President Donald Trump to suspend US contributions to the World Health Organization (WHO). In this commentary, I look at two key issues that are swirling in the unfolding debate about what the WHO did and did not do – on travel restrictions, for one, but on a freedom of information flow more generally, for another. Although the WHO is being criticized for its actions on these two issues, I believe that they call for more engagement with the WHO, not less. Thank you, Bill Gates! Continue reading “Travel and Information Flows: Working WITH the World Health Organization”

Early Reflections on Covid-19, the New March Madness

In the Northern Hemisphere, March is a pivotal month for the onslaught of “spring fever”. And for those of us who have been known to embrace the herd mentality of the season-ending collegiate basketball tournament in the US, it is also known as the month of “March Madness”. In this year of 2020, it seems tragically appropriate that, in this turbulent month, we have experienced yet another kind of “March Madness”. And that is the fearsome disease that we have come to know as “Covid-19”. As we come to the end of this crazy month, here are some reflections on why the Covid-19 pandemic will forever be associated in my mind with the madness of this pivotal month of March. Continue reading “Early Reflections on Covid-19, the New March Madness”

Warm Greetings for the New Decade

Warm greetings to all for a fulfilling and inclusive 2020 and the beginning of a new decade. As this past eventful decade and its closing year of 2019 come to an end, we are all hopeful that 2020 will be a turning point for more than the beginning of a new decade. We are talking about a turning point in politics, of course, but also a more fundamental turning point in the political will to make a difference in support of human rights, healthy and sustainable livelihoods, freedom, dignity, and a clean and safe environment for generations to come. 

Continue reading “Warm Greetings for the New Decade”

Snippet on Civic Space from the 2019 Paris Peace Forum

Among the initiatives that were officially “launched” at the 2019 Paris Peace Forum was something called an “Observatory of Civic Space” at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It was illuminating to learn that the OECD had been selected by an unusual group of sponsors – or that the OECD had itself solicited this unusual group of sponsors – for such an observatory. Continue reading “Snippet on Civic Space from the 2019 Paris Peace Forum”

More Snippets from the Paris Peace Forum: Borders in a ‘Borderless’ World

Borders are what you deal with when you have to show a passport to someone to go from one place to another. So what is it about having borders in a “borderless” world? I was attracted to this event at the 2019 Paris Peace Forum with the simplistic assumption that it would be about how to manage borders to facilitate human migration, trade and capital flows. Much to my surprise, the event had been organized to promote the role of borders to keep people apart, and not to manage borders to bring people together! Well, this proves to be a far more fundamental principle of what borders are about than I had put any thought into. So I learned something here. Continue reading “More Snippets from the Paris Peace Forum: Borders in a ‘Borderless’ World”

Further Snippets from the Paris Peace Forum: Climate Change

“COP 25” is wrapping up in Madrid as I sit at my desk in my “birds’ nest” of an office looking out at a wintry scene of an early dusk that brings a glow of the setting sun to the olive and cypress trees just outside my window. I am overdue to wrap up my series of reports on the 2019 Paris Peace Forum with some observations about what transpired there on the issue of climate change. And here it is long past the brief moment in the sunshine for that event (weeks ago in November!) as the whirlwind of climate change activists – and the media – have converged instead around COP 25 in Madrid. I am, however, quite mellow as I sit in my “birds’ nest” and mull over what I might write about this issue.  Neither the Paris Peace Forum nor the Madrid COP 25 will be seen as pivotal events for climate change, even as the issue is clearly mounting in media attention and public policy concern. But the one big takeaway that I learned at the Paris Peace Forum is that significant incremental action is taking hold. Continue reading “Further Snippets from the Paris Peace Forum: Climate Change”

Snippets from the Paris Peace Forum 2019: The Macron Message, Digital Anxieties and Gender

Although I may have had a strong negative impression overall of how the 2019 Paris Peace Forum was managed, I did pick up some interesting insights on a variety of topics. Let me reiterate: I was truly disappointed with the lack of inclusiveness, lack of clarity of programming and lack of follow-through  or even wrapping-up messaging by the Forum’s organizers. Nonetheless, the Grande Halle de Villette apparently attracted some 7000 participants, many of whom were there to promote their fledgling projects (over 100 of them) but also to share their expertise, on advancing multilateralism.  So there was a lot to choose from. Here are my snippets on the Eurocentric highlights of the opening ceremony, the dominance throughout the Forum of digital-related interests and the cross-cutting nature of the Forum’s gender-related initiatives. Future snippets are in the works on the Forum’s role in introducing new perspectives on climate change, a new civic observatory for the OECD and a rather interesting (for me, anyway) discussion of border management issues. Continue reading “Snippets from the Paris Peace Forum 2019: The Macron Message, Digital Anxieties and Gender”

Paris Peace Forum 2019 an Unrealized Dream

The 2019 version of the Paris Peace Forum does not bode well for its future. The idea for this supposedly annual event started with a bang in 2018. On that occasion, it showed up rather suddenly (for an outsider) in conjunction with the Armistice Day centenary events that drew the likes of Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau and other heads of state to the impressive Arc de Triomph ceremony hosted by President Emmanuel Macron on 11 November. Over 60 heads of state (but not Trump) then joined the Paris Peace Forum, a new Macron-inspired initiative to promote global governance in general and multilateralism in particular, that was held nearby at the Grande Halle de Villette. But the second supposedly annual Forum was a disappointment.  Continue reading “Paris Peace Forum 2019 an Unrealized Dream”