Voices from the World Social Forum 2024 – PODCAST

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Civil Society

Feb 23 2024 (IPS) – After interviewing a member of the Nepal organizing committee ahead of opening day, I was excited about covering my first ever World Social Forum (WSF). He suggested that at least 30,000 and as many as 50,000 activists from over 90 countries would attend the three-day event.

But day 1 disappointed me. The march through the centre of Kathmandu was large, but not the massive showing I expected to see — perhaps because police in the vehicle-clogged city centre didn’t close roads along the route, but squeezed marchers into one lane of traffic. Again, thousands crowded in front of the stage for the opening ceremony but while it was impressive, it was far from a stupendous showing.

But as I hurried to attend various workshops over the next three days I became increasingly impressed. Each session — most held in cold, dusty classrooms in a series of colleges lining a downtown road— was full, some to overflowing.

People were eager to squeeze in, to hear colleagues from across the world explain and advocate on issues that affected all of their lives in very similar ways. Between workshops the chatter of those who had finished early — or at least not late like the rest of us — floated through the open windows of classrooms.

On closing day more than 60 declarations were reportedly issued by the various ‘movements’, the thematic groups that comprise the WSF. I’m sure they assert the need for change: for peace, equality, rights and dignity — for people, nature and the planet. As usual, I support these calls.

But what I learned at my first WSF is that energy and enthusiasm for a world that looks and runs vastly differently than the often terrible one that we inhabit today has not waned among a huge number of people, young and old.

I’d hazard a guess that the ones you’re about to hear, who I recorded at the start of the Forum, would be as engaged and energetic if I had spoken with them after it ended, following hours of listening, learning, and networking about how to create a better world.


Malawi, the land of broken promises

By Golden Matonga

In 2020, Malawi was a country on the rise, and its democracy was a beacon of hope.

The year before, relentless street protests followed the results of a general election that saw the incumbent, Peter Mutharika, declared the winner. The vote, widely perceived to be rigged, was contested by the opposition. In the end, constitutional court judges ruled to reject the election outcome.

The presidential elections were held again, votes recast and the Tonse Alliance – a union of the two main opposition parties – emerged victorious. The leaders, Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party and Saulos Chilima of the United Transformation Movement, vowed to rid the country of its endemic corruption.

Malawi’s false dawn

They also promised to create one million jobs. It was exactly what a citizenry struggling to get any form of employment wanted to hear. And the international community duly rewarded the efforts to root out systemic and electoral corruption.

The UK’s National Crime Agency and Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau have linked a Malawi-born British businessman to a procurement scandal

‘We must clear the rubble of impunity, for it has left our governance institutions in ruins,’ Chakwera said at his inauguration. Chilima took the vice presidency.

Euphoria akin to a revolution swept the country. The Economist magazine named Malawi country of the year. The five judges who had presided over the historic election case were awarded the 2020 Chatham House Prize for setting an example ‘for their peers across the world by upholding the centrality of the rule of law and separation of powers’.

‘This is a historic moment for democratic governance,’ said Robin Niblett, then director of Chatham House. ‘The ruling by Malawi’s constitutional court judges is not only crucial for rebuilding the confidence of Malawi’s citizens in their institutions, but also for upholding standards of democracy more widely across the African continent.’

But the applause came too early.

Corruption, once again, has dogged the new government. A recent survey carried out by Afrobarometer found that two-thirds of Malawians believe corruption is getting worse under the Tonse Alliance. The president has responded to the demand for more action by vowing to remove from office all individuals found to be involved in corruption while funnelling more resources into institutions mandated with fighting graft.

Now a major scandal is turning into an existential threat to the alliance itself. In a joint investigation, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau have linked a Malawi-born British businessman to a procurement scandal over public contracts.

Zuneth Sattar was arrested in October 2021 by the NCA on charges of corruption relating to three public contracts worth $150 million, awarded between 2019 and 2021, involving the supply of armoured personnel carriers, food rations and water cannons. Sattar strongly denies any wrongdoing, and while he has yet to be formally charged with any offence, it is expected to happen at any moment.

Among those alleged to have had a corrupt relationship with Sattar are Chilima, the president’s chief of staff Prince Kapondamgaga, head of the police service George Kainja, and senior officials in the police, military and procurement agencies.

The collapse of the Tonse Alliance
Following these allegations, President Chakwera stripped his deputy of all delegated powers – the most he can do for an official who cannot be removed constitutionally. The police chief has been fired, and the president’s chief of staff suspended.

In a televised speech, Chilima accused his own administration of scapegoating failures to deliver campaign pledges and of failing to honour terms of agreement on the creation of the Tonse Alliance government.

‘We should not allow history to be changed because someone or some people have now just realized that power which should be shared has become sweeter and begin to display as much excitement as a two-year-old at the sight of candy,’ Chilima said.

Regardless of the Tonse Alliance’s fate, its leaders would struggle to attract support at the next election. On top of the corruption allegations, the already fragile economy has been battered by the pandemic and escalating commodity prices worsened by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Since the end of last year, protests have broken out over the rising cost of living.

The leaders of the coalition thought once they got power, the job was done. But this isn’t what the electorate had in mind

Danwood Chirwa, professor of law at Cape Town University, South Africa

‘The Tonse Alliance administration made a number of promises premised on the economic situation at the material time. Then came the devaluation of the kwacha, the war in Ukraine, the two cyclones and skyrocketing inflationary pressures both within and outside the country. All these mean that the promises can no longer be fulfilled in full,’ says Betchani Tchereni, an economist at the Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences.

He says that while commodity prices have adjusted upwards, revenue generation has not improved. Traditional western donors have not thrown an economic life jacket as expected. ‘Potential developer partners are also going through economic pressures themselves, and the IMF is demanding certain conditionalities before the ECF [Extended Credit Facility] can be approved and have stabilization funds released,’ he added.

While the government cannot be solely blamed for economic instability, it has also mismanaged public expectations and misunderstood the aspirations of the electorate, according to Danwood Chirwa, a law professor at Cape Town University in South Africa and a critic of the administration.

‘The leaders of the coalition thought and still think that a change of government was all that the people wanted,’ he says. ‘Once they got the power, the job was done. But this isn’t what the electorate had in mind. A complete overhaul of the practice of governance and improving the delivery of public services were the main concerns in the minds of voters.’

New government, same bad habits
He argues that instead of delivering on the aspirations of the people, the new government delivered ‘the same pattern of bad governance, the blossoming of corruption networks, the use of state resources to protect those accused of corruption, the continuation of nepotism, wasteful expenditure, lack of vision and planning, lack of interest in action, and more importantly, increased interest in appearances and false promises and self-promotion.’

Gift Trapence, chairperson of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition, a civil society body that organized the post-2019 election protests, agrees.

‘The reason why Malawians voted the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party]out of government was mainly because of the party’s arrogance and nepotistic tendencies. However, the new government is entrenching itself with the same culture. For example, public appointments are skewed towards the Tonse Alliance’s political base of the central region at the expense of those from southern and northern regions,’ says Trapence.

The government argues that the accusations are exaggerated but accepts that there’s room for improvement. ‘We could have done better if most of the factors were equal. Covid-19, disasters motivated by climatic changes, the effects of the Ukraine/Russia war have not assisted our course,’ says Gospel Kazako, Malawi’s information minister and official government spokesperson.

He said the administration has not backtracked on ensuring rule of law, however. ‘Organized syndicates of crime and corruption needed more time for us to thaw them and crack them. We are not on top of issues. All this is being driven by the dictates of the rule of law that plays a central role. We believe it is through strict compliance to the rule of law that we will multiply our achievements as a government,’ he said.

The next general elections will take place in 2025, when the president and ruling coalition will have to convince the electorate that they deserve another chance.

Golden Matonga: Director of Investigations, Platform for Investigative Journalism in Malawi

CDEDI full report on the Malawi Government claims on Passports


As a mouth-piece of the voiceless citizenry, and in exercise of its governance watchdog role, the Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) zeroed in on the current passport crisis in the country and hereby shares its key findings as follows:

To start with, it is important to say that President Lazarus Chakwera has not only lied to the world but, also, proved himself to be a security threat to the nation by hoodwinking Malawians into believing that the country’s passport printing system has been hacked, and that the hackers are demanding a ransom.

In other words, we have reasons to believe that the President disguised Techno Brain as a hacker, and further disguised the GIT’s maintenance contract fee as ransom in order to earn himself and his administration public sympathy.


Malawians may wish to know that on March 22, 2019 the Malawi Government engaged Techno Brain on a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis where the company used its money to build the system for printing
passports on the understanding that it would recover its money through passport fees and later hand over the operations of the system to the Malawi Government after three years. Important to note here is that passports are
not printed using Other Recurrent Transaction (ORT) but money that people pay when they apply for passports.

At the expiry of the BOT contract, Techno Brain handed over everything to the Malawi Government. However, for purposes of the smooth running of the system, Techno Brain recommended a Dubai-based company, known as
GIT, as a maintenance consultant. Apparently, this was done in view of the need for replacement of the system’s parts, including servicing.

The above is now the genesis of the current crisis. Some well-known Malawi Congress Party-connected ICT gurus, including officials from e-Government, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) and National
Registration Bureau (NRB), against technical advice from internal ICT team at the Immigration Department, bypassed Techno Brain and GIT and tampered with the system in an effort to run away from paying licence fees.
Investigations show that the system was tampered with through the Lilongwe saver office at Malawi Postal Corporation Training Centre, along the Paul Kagame road where the Department of Immigration and Citizen
Services headquarters is earmarked to be located. When their attempts proved futile, they invited a Techno Brain team which came for assessment, hence the public notice by the Department of Immigration titled

According to the assessment report, the Techno Brain team recommended to government that they needed eight days to bring back the system and printing could resume in Lilongwe and Blantyre. To be followed by Mzuzu
and Mangochi. The Techno Brain team said all it needed was a mandate to start working to recover the system, but the MCP ICT team acted wiser and convinced government that they did not need Techno Brain’s assistance,
hence the government has not granted Techno Brain mandate to recover the system.


The growing public rage and the ever-inquisitive citizens forced the MCP ICT gurus who were still trying to apply the try-and-error tactics to recover the system, to use the agenda setting theory to churn the hacking narrative,
which is senseless and dangerous.

Unfortunately, President Chakwera has been caught lying under oath! Forget about the report, here is why Malawians should be living in fear:

By publicly informing the nation that the Immigration system has been hacked, the President has played in the hands of professional hackers. In fact, the President has just told the world: “Here we are, a helpless and
vulnerable nation whose systems are susceptible to hacking!” But the hacking narrative also begs some serious question:

  1. The mode of communication with the hackers to demand the so-called ransom, assuming it is in person, why not unleash State apparatus to apprehend the messenger if they are within the country? If they are elsewhere in the world, why can’t government seek assistance from governments of those countries to apprehend them? Assuming they are communicating via WhatsApp call or e-mails, is it that difficult to use modern technology to trace them?
  2. Further question to the above would be; as a nation, have we failed to trace the hackers due to lack of expertise? If that is the case, are we safe as a country? If it is out of lack of interest, why is government not interested to flush out the hackers in the first place?
  3. The other question would be: Is President Chakwera telling Malawians that as huge and important the Passport Issuance System is, it doesn’t have backup servers elsewhere? For starters, any computer-based system, no matter how small it might be, has a virtual backup system, and this was one of Techno Brain’s expected deliverables. To hear that the system crushed and loss of data occurred is a huge mockery, especially for the kind of operations we are talking about.
    Malawians may recall that between 2018 and 2019 one of the commercial banks in the country had its system hacked, but it was up and running within an hour because they had servers in Lilongwe, Mzuzu and in the country they had procured the system.

Servers are important because no matter how watertight a system can be, it is prone to hacking for, among others, the following reasons:

  1. Malice
  2. Theft and or ransom
  3. Frustration from the super users
  4. Natural disasters and calamities

Now the critical question President Chakwera should answer is: Out of the 20 million plus Malawians, did we not have skilled ICT personnel that could advise on the need for the Immigration Department to have redundant servers in place?

This is why we at CDEDI, on behalf of Malawians, conclude that the President lied before the House of records the day he appeared in Parliament and, among other questions, he was asked to explain the passport crisis.


Malawi is at crossroads, the MCP ICT team is holding the country at ransom. But empty threats from the President won’t work. The system is ours since it was handed over to government, but government is trying to dodge user licence fees to GIT. Government is now accusing GIT for demanding user fees, which President Chakwera has described as ransom, after some so-called local ICT experts tampered with the system to bypass both GIT and Techno Brain. The noble thing to do is for the Tonse Alliance administration to swallow its pride and let Techno Brain do the needful that will allow Malawians acquire passports as and when they need them.


Malawians may wish to know that all this is stemming from an election campaign promise to make a passport affordable, at K14,000, down from the current K93,000. As this campaign promise was being made, passport printing, according to the initial contract of 800,000 books, was pegged at $76 each translating into US$60.8 million about MK108 billion. Malawians may remember that the cost of $76 per passport was used to cost the project with deliverables. Techno Brain was requested through the office of Attorney General to inform the country the cost of a single booklet, but they declined. It simply meant that if the passport fee was to be reduced as promised, government should have subsidised the fee.

The three-year e-Passport project had deliverables attached to it as follows:

  1. Digitalization of the registry.
  2. Digitalisation and networking of all embassies to cut on costs for sending
    documents through DHL, and fraud where passports were manipulated.
  3. Printing facilities at Chileka and Kamuzu International Airports.
  4. Disaster recovery site
  5. Airport forensic laboratories
  6. Training of personnel
  7. Study tours
  8. Provision of five Toyota Hilux Twin cabs
  9. Upgrade current passport system
  10. Provision of additional printers
  11. Stock management system
  12. Provision of cctv cameras
  13. Enhance access control of building and printing rooms
  14. Protective gear for printing rooms

As it stands, the Immigration Department Director General (DG) General Charles Kalumo owes Malawians an explanation or two, as to whether all the deliverables were met. If not, he needs to explain why that is the case after full payment of contract money was paid.


President Chakwera is shielding the trio that is holding this country atransom, by allowing them to feed the nation lies that they will be able to run the system, through bypassing GIT and Techno Brain, at the expense of
people requiring to travel for medical attention, business and school.

The system requires a disaster recovery site, which was among Techno Brain’s deliverables as per provision of the expired contract.

The three weeks the President has promised to have the system up and running is a clear indication that he trusts the so-called ICT gurus that have failed for the past four weeks, and our fear is that this will be a fruitless
effort, likely to end in tears for us.The said 21 days is too long a wait when Techno Brain had suggested for eight working days, especially given that some people have waited for their passports for ages.


Malawians have a right to know who did what; therefore, CDEDI implores the relevant committee in the august House to immediately call for a live public inquiry over the matter, where Techno Brain would also be heard.
By public convenience, the government should immediately recall able hands that have full knowledge and skills of the said ‘hacked system’ but were unceremoniously interdicted, posted and/or transferred, to go back
and solve this national crisis, and save the country from the embarrassment government has pushed it into.

Meanwhile, the seven (7) working days’ ultimatum stands! CDEDI will mobilise Malawians to conduct peaceful demonstrations, protesting the 21 days and forcing a public inquiry on the same.

Sylvester Namiwa

Funding, Policy Changes Could Result in Countries Reaping Benefit of Migration

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Migration & Refugees

The African Unions Migration Policy Framework for Africa (2018-2030) provides guidelines to manage migration and reap the benefits of well managed migration which contribute to global prosperity and progress. Credit: UNHCR

The African Unions Migration Policy Framework for Africa (2018-2030) provides guidelines to manage migration and reap the benefits of well managed migration which contribute to global prosperity and progress. Credit: UNHCR

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Feb 23 2024 (IPS) – Amid an escalation of global conflict and climate change-induced displacements, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is escalating its donor campaign.

For the first time since the organization’s formation in 1951, the IOM says it is “proactively approaching all partners to fund this vital appeal,” at a time when the number of migrants making perilous intercontinental journeys has increased.

“Irregular and forced migration have reached unprecedented levels and the challenges we face are increasingly complex,” said IOM Director General Amy Pope at the launch of the Global Appeal in Geneva in January.

It added to its appeal this week, asking for USD 112 million to provide urgent humanitarian and development assistance to over 1.4 million migrants and host communities in the Horn of Africa, Yemen, and Southern Africa. Routes from the Horn of Africa to Yemen and the Gulf States, and the Southern route from the Horn of Africa through Kenya and Tanzania to Southern Africa, are among the most dangerous, complex, and under-reported migratory routes in the world. In 2023, nearly 400,000 movements were recorded across the Eastern route, while an additional 80,000 movements were recorded on the Southern route, particularly to South Africa, the statement read.

“The evidence is overwhelming that migration, when well managed, is a major contributor to global prosperity and progress. We are at a critical moment in time, and we have designed this appeal  to help deliver on that promise. We can and must do better,”  Pope said at the launch.

The IOM has broken down the appeal as follows:

  • USD 3.4 billion for work on saving lives and protecting people on the move.
  • USD 2.7 billion for work on solutions to displacement, including reducing the risks and impacts of climate change.
  • USD 1.6 billion for work on facilitating regular pathways for migration.
  • USD 163 million for work on transforming IOM to deliver services in a better, more effective way.

“Full funding would allow IOM to serve almost 140 million people, including internally displaced people and the local communities that host them. Crucially, it would also allow for an expansion of the IOM’s development work, which helps prevent further displacement,” the IOM said in a media briefing.

However, experts and researchers say the global migration that has peaked in recent years has deeper, more complex roots that will require more than just responding to after the fact.

“What we’re seeing is a willingness from officials and citizens to thoroughly dehumanise migrants,” said Loren Landau, professor and chair at the University of Witwatersrand African Centre for Migration and Society.

“Not only can they be left to suffer, but they should be made to suffer. Only by doing this can ‘we’ send a message that others are unwelcome. The policies of the EU, Australia, and even South Africa are all designed to broadcast this sentiment,” Landau told IPS.

The IOM estimates that there are more than 140 million displaced people, and it’s global appeal for donor support will “save lives and protect people on the move, drive solutions to displacement, and facilitate safe pathways for regular migration.”

Thousands continue to make efforts to illegally enter Europe and the USA with assistance from traffickers,.

According to the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, 60,000 people have died or disappeared on perilous journeys to seek economic opportunities over the last nine years.

Migration has in recent years become a political hot button, with right-wing political parties in Europe accused of whipping up public sentiment against migrants.

However, Landau says global inequality has worsened the displacement of millions of people.

“Migration has long been a crisis, although it has often been framed differently. There have always been displaced people. There has long been violence and corruption on the border. However, it has now moved from the edge of public debate to the centre,” Loren said.

“Global inequality, labour demand, conflict, and environmental factors are encouraging people to move, but movement is natural,” he told IPS.

Claims that migrants steal jobs from locals and force governments to divert social spending to accommodate migrants have fueled anti-immigrant sentiment.

Researchers, however, have always questioned those claims as the IOM ups its efforts to assist migrants in their new domiciles.

“Migrants are generally not why fewer people have secure employment, social protection, or feel their cultures and values are under threat.  But in light of those anxieties, migrants have become the fetish on which politicians and the public fixate,” Landau added.

In its appeal for donor funding, the IOM says well-managed migration “has the potential to advance development outcomes, contribute to climate change adaptation, and promote a safer and more peaceful, sustainable, prosperous, and equitable future.”

“The consequences of underfunded, piecemeal assistance come at a greater cost, not just in terms of money but in greater danger to migrants through irregular migration, trafficking, and smuggling,” said Pope.

“Getting the job done requires greater investment from governments, the private sector, individual donors, and other partners,” said Pope.

The African Union, which has seen the bulk of global migration, says the continent has witnessed changing patterns of migration, “a phenomenon that has become both dynamic and extremely complex.”

As part of efforts to address this and in what is expected to aid the work being done by the IOM, the AU set up the Migration Policy Framework for Africa (2018–2030).

The Framework provides “guidelines to manage migration in a coherent manner and therefore reap the benefits of migration.”

Those benefits are captured in IOM findings that “281 million international migrants generate 9.4% of global GDP.”

Despite the dangers that have come to define migrant experiences, especially on the high seas, the factors that drive millions to leave their homelands remain unresolved.

“There are immediate practical concerns about ensuring people can migrate safely,” said Landau.

“Beyond this, there is a broader need to recalibrate how we speak about these issues. Migration is not going anywhere so there’s a need to shift the framing from one of crisis to one of ‘the new normal’, Landau told IPS.
IPS UN Bureau Report


The World Social Forum: The counterweight to the World Economic Forum

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Opening of the World Social Forum 2024 in Kathmandu

KATHMANDU, Nepal, Feb 23 2024 (IPS) – This week the 2024 annual meeting of the World Social Forum (WSF) was held in Nepal. There were fifty thousand participants from over 90 countries, exchanging strategies to address the multiple global crises, from climate catastrophes to unfettered capitalism, inequality, social injustice, wars and conflict.

The WSF was created in 2001 as a counterbalance to the elitism of the World Economic Forum (WEF). The WEF, founded and chaired by a private financial sector foundation, fosters the influence of the corporate world among governments in the luxury ski resort of Davos (Switzerland).

Isabel Ortiz

By contrast, the WSF was created as an arena for alternative thinking, where the grassroots and social avant-garde could gain a voice, challenging the neoliberal idea that “there is no alternative” (TINA); instead affirming that “another world is possible” built upon peace, human rights, real democracy, equity, and justice.

While Davos is the meeting for the 1%, the wealthiest people in the planet, Kathmandu is the meeting for the rest of us. The UN Secretary-General extended his best wishes for WSF 2024 for “restoring hope and finding innovative solutions for people and the planet.”

Indeed, the WSF 2024 was hotbed of ideas, alternative experiences and strategies. There is no concluding summary or annual declaration because the WSF organizers seek to maintain a plurality and diversity of messages. The following points reflect my personal overview of the key topics discussed:

    • Denouncing the genocide in Gaza, a demand for an immediate ceasefire and the establishment of a free state of Palestine.

    • Refuse militarization and wars: Cut military spending and power, promote peace and democracy. Defense spending is increasing while austerity policies cut social spending, this trend must be reversed.

    • Organize against the rise of the far right: Radical right governments around the world have eroded democracy, human rights and civil society. Reports were made of censorship, repression, abuses of justice, unjustified raids and unfair imprisonment of progressive citizens, by the governments of Modi in India, Duterte in Philippines, Orban in Hungary, Duda in Poland, Al-Sisi in Egypt, Trump in the US, Bolsonaro in Brazil, among others There were also many reports of abusive litigation by corporations and politicians against journalists, activist researchers and CSOs, that are silencing critical voices.

    Fight inequality to counter the excessive concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a small elite. Inequality is the result of deliberate political and economic choices, and it can be reversed to build a just, equal and sustainable world.

    End Austerity, illegitimate debt and neoliberal economic policies that have failed citizens resoundingly. These outdated policies, imposed by international financial institutions (IFIs) like the IMF and the World Bank through the Ministries of Finance and G20, mostly benefit corporations and investors in the US and in a few Northen countries, result in real and lasting harm to the lives of ordinary people. There are alternative economic policies, such as the adequate taxation of wealthy millionaires and corporations, that can finance prosperity for people and planet.

    • Redress violations of human rights for women, Dalits (the ‘untouchables’) and lower castes, LGBT, persons with disabilities and different ethnicities; demanding enactment and implementation of inclusive policies and strategies to eliminate class, caste, gender and race-based disparities.

    • The 2024 Feminist Forum focused on addressing systemic barriers that impede women’s rights, from patriarchy to macroeconomic policies, through transformative feminist action that leads to change.

    • Ensure public services, universal social security or social protection, and labor rights for all, including informal workers and migrants, instead of the current austerity driven trend to privatize or corporatize public services, to reduce welfare benefits and to deregulate the labor market.

    • Peasant protests and movements: La Via Campesina is the largest movement today with two hundred million peasant members fighting for food security, against agribusiness and GMOs. It is very active, has alliances with unions, indigenous peoples’ movements and it is a good model for other movements.

    Climate Justice: A number of sessions discussed climate catastrophes, the IFIs support for fossil fuels, just transitions, habitat, and sustainable development.

The lack of will of the world’s political and economic elites to resolve today’s multiple crisis fuels discontent among citizens and disillusionment with conventional parties. People everywhere are losing faith in governments, institutions, and economic and political systems. Governments and world leaders would do well to listen and to act upon the ideas coming from the World Social Forum.

Isabel Ortiz, Director of the think-tank Global Social Justice, was Director of the International Labor Organization and UNICEF, and a senior official at the United Nations and the Asian Development Bank.

IPS UN Bureau


Children’s Futures at a Crossroads

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Credit: UNICEF/Abdulazeem Mohamed

War in Sudan is putting the future of its 24 million youngest citizens at risk, the Representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned. January 2024

Meanwhile geopolitical and geoeconomic fragmentation threaten the development and survival of children across the globe. But a more hopeful path exists.

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 23 2024 (IPS) – At the start of 2024, we stand at a critical juncture: Geopolitical tensions are escalating, economic integration is unravelling, and multilateral cooperation is faltering. This global fragmentation threatens to undermine decades of progress made for children worldwide.

The choices we make today – whether to continue on this path or whether we should bolster global cooperation – will have a profound impact on generations to come.

Children are always the most vulnerable in times of crisis – a reality highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, when school closures, economic hardship and disrupted health services jeopardized children’s rights and wellbeing.

Almost four years since that pandemic was declared, our new report, Prospects for Children in 2024: Cooperation in a Fragmented World, paints a concerning picture for children’s future development and welfare.

Tensions among major powers are rising and the threat of new conflicts emerging is high. Beyond the immediate physical dangers, children can experience lasting psychological trauma and violations of their basic rights.

If military spending continues increasing at the expense of investments in healthcare, education and social protections, children’s development will be further compromised.

Meanwhile, economic fragmentation is widening disparities between countries. Restrictive trade policies and supply chain disruptions are leading to rising energy and food prices, reducing access to essential goods and negatively impacting child nutrition and household incomes.

Competition for critical minerals essential for the green economy is increasing the risks of trade fragmentation while threatening the pace of the green energy transition. At the same time, the drive to expand mining for minerals puts mining communities and children at risk of exploitative practices.

Despite continued global economic growth, the lukewarm and uneven recovery is diminishing prospects for reducing child poverty. From now until 2030, 15 million more children a year will be living in poverty than would have otherwise, due to the unequal post-COVID recovery.

This gloomy picture is compounded by the weakening of multilateral institutions, which is further undermining the potential for progress for children. Why?

Because a fragmented multilateral system that is hamstrung by competing interests will struggle to deliver on conflict prevention, climate change, effective digital governance, debt relief and enforcing child rights standards, fuelling dissatisfaction in the Global South with rising inequalities.

Children in the poorest nations also face continued barriers to financing for basic services. Crippling debt, high remittance fees and lack of voice in global economic governance restrict investments in healthcare, education and social protections – investments vital to children’s survival and development.

But amid all these concerning trends, we see still signs of hope. Alternative alliances are emerging in the developing world to advance cooperation, bringing novel policy solutions, more nimble policymaking and effective results.

Despite expressing discontent with current democratic political structures, young people remain optimistic that opportunities exist to reform and resolve deficiencies in the political system, whether at the national or international level. They are engaging as change-makers, breathing new life into civic participation and democratic renewal.

In addition, technological innovations are unlocking new opportunities to empower children and enhance their rights. Green transition, if carried out in a just and sustainable way – one that prioritizes young people’s needs, skills and access to jobs in emerging sectors (such as the digital and green economy) – can benefit younger generations.

Reforms and modernization of global governance and financing arrangements could still deliver greater justice for developing countries. This more hopeful path will not unfold on its own. It requires global leaders to make an active choice – to double down on solidarity, inclusion and cooperation despite tensions and instability.

Prioritizing children and their rights must be at the centre of this choice.

Jasmina Byrne is Chief, Foresight & Policy, UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight.

IPS UN Bureau