JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
THE WORLD HAS BECOME A BETTER PLACE, in many aspects; be it the economy, healthcare, access to education, human rights etc. Unsurprisingly, it’s only after the Cold War that we have been able to make significant progress. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world was a much divided landscape. While Russia led the Soviet Union on a mission to build a communist paradise around the globe. On the other side, the United States of America led its bloc of nations on its capitalist course.
The two countries had very distinct views of the world; they both exploited much resources to advance their ideologies at every corner of the earth. This clash of ideologies resulted in incessant global instability; that negatively affected almost every nation that exists under the sun.
Institutions like the United Nations became an ideological battlefield for the two worlds. The United States was already an economic powerhouse at the time. But it was a very different power than the one we’ve known in the past twenty years.
We know the America that sets a footprint around the world, without much geopolitical obstacles; be it economically, politically or militarily. But in the Cold War era, this was never the case; as the Soviet Union challenged every move America made. The U.S. challenged every move the Soviet Union made too.
None of us benefitted from the Cold War, although today, sadly; people take the repercussions of the Cold War very lightly.
Even South Africa was a victim of the Cold War. One of the reasons why it, perhaps took so long to end apartheid, was because global powers saw political turmoil in South Africa in Cold War lens. Americans viewed Mandela a communist; so according to them he perhaps deserved to be locked up in jail. Mandela’s banned political movement, the African National Congress, was seen as communist and therefore deserved to be in the wilderness.
The war also played out in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo; as one of the world’s poorest countries endured crises after crises. The Congo Crises that culminated in Patrice Lumumba’s death in 1961, was viewed in Cold War lens. The corrupt Mobuto Sese Seko who took power in 1965 and ran Africa’s landlocked country into the ground, was buttressed by the United States for most of his tyrannical rule; for ideological reasons of course.
Some experts argue that the worst was that global powers did not understand, or perhaps were not interested in understanding Zaire’s tribal politics. And sadly, more than half-a-century since its independence; the country is one of the worst places to live at on earth.
THE CONVERGENCE, AFTER THE COLD WAR
To end the cold war, it took the then two global powers (The United States and the Soviet Union) to agree that they were no longer enemies, in late 1980s. Post-Cold War, the world took a dramatic shift. A united world, led by the United States, was formed. The results of this formation were astonishingly positive.
But it’s fair to say that such efforts had been made before; through the establishment of the United Nations, the World Bank and other institutions; but they never culminated in global harmony; as the Cold War persistently disrupted the world.
After 1991, most countries liberalized their economies to open up to global trade. The Soviet Union had collapsed due to communism’s failure; so only one system seemed to have survived the test – capitalism. More and more countries took a path towards economic freedom, as it seemed to have worked.
The liberalization of the global economy resulted in “globalization”; as countries opened up their borders to global trade. The ease at which goods and services flow across borders has made our lives much better.
Then the technology took another dazzling turn. The emergence of the internet revolutionized the world in an unprecedented way. Today, companies worth billions operate solely over the internet; in fact, the world’s most valuable companies conduct their business on the internet. The Chief Executives of these companies rank among the richest people on earth.
A stable world, produced by the termination of the Cold War; globalization and technology; are all the forces which have changed our world for the better.
These forces, after the cold war, have cut global poverty by 40%; today, most women have an opportunity to go to school; child mortality has been cut by more than half; global healthcare has improved; experts say we live in most peaceful times in human history; and so much other improvements that we see around the world today.
Poverty has declined due to world’s impressive economic growth. This growth is being driven by developing nations; China, India, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, Russia and many others.
When the global economy slipped into the worst financial crises since the 1930s in 2008; the pain was felt by the Western world; while the developing nations continued to maintain their impressive growth. Some experts argued that the calamity resulted in Western financial crises, not really a global financial crises. Western growth was repressed, and many people lost their jobs.
Due to this continuous improvement of the economy after the cold war, developing nations get richer and richer. We now see a convergence in global incomes, although slowly. The Gross Domestic Product per capita in these countries has risen sharply since the early 1990s.
China is about to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy. It is today the world’s largest car market; the world’s largest smartphone market. While the West is growing very slowly, the East is growing rapidly and catching up to centuries of lost productivity – the convergence.
It’s not only standards of living that converge; but also people’s desire to live in a free, democratic world. The recent protests, although with flaws, against dictatorships across the Middle East are a sign that most people are desperate for political freedoms. They have been repressed for decades, if not centuries. They are desperate for what exists in the West – democracy. So not only is the world converging in standards of living, but also on political desires.
When the American president, Ronald Reagan, signed the deal with Mikhail Gorbachev, to end the Cold War; they both had built the foundations of a prosperous future. We all owe them enormous gratitude. I can assure you, had they not undertaken this action, much economic and political progress would still be a mirage to all of us. They did it. We now see the fruits.
The convergence and desperation for peace is at play. I personally, am grateful that I was born at the twilight of the Cold War – which ended months after I was born. It was God’s plan of course, not mine.
The war did hinder social progress, and it did shape the world we live in today. But years after it ended, it is clear that the world is going on the right direction. Let’s be thankful. PM
© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI