By Ambassador Usman Sarki
The 3rd Conference of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Nations held in Lusaka, Zambia, in September 1970, and the Second Ministerial Meeting of the Group of 77 Nations held in Lima, Peru, in 1971, proved relevant in terms of accelerating the calls for the review of the existing international economic system. Both the “Lusaka” and “Lima” Declarations, provided the impetus towards the realignment of the forces that had hitherto, shaped the global economy to make them better suited to meeting the aspirations of the emerging or developing countries.
The “Charter on Economic Rights and Duties of States”, that was submitted to the high-level meeting of UNCTAD in 1972 by the Mexican president, was also a decisive instrument that propelled the world towards a consideration of the proposition to change the global systems of trade and economic relationships.
However, it was the Forth Conference of the Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Nations held in Algiers, Algeria, in September 1973, that proved decisive in terms of galvanising the developing countries towards a common position on a new international economic order. The Conference adopted the historic “Economic Declaration and Action Programme on Economic Development”, which established the framework of action towards the goal of a new international economic order.
As these initiatives were unfolding, the concept of the “Third World” as a given construct and immutable condition of development, was also being challenged by scholars in the global south and even in the metropolitan countries. The argument that subsequently emerged and solidified, was that underdevelopment was not a natural condition, but a historical phenomenon, that was fostered by the unequal relationships created by colonisation and subjugation of nations and peoples. Therefore, it must not be seen as a permanent and unchangeable condition.
This led to the gathering of momentum towards establishment of a “new international economic order” largely driven by the countries of the global south. Consequently,1974 proved a landmark year in the search for realignment of forces in the world. On 1st May of that year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the “Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order”, at a special session.
The meeting was devoted to “the consideration of the most important economic problems facing the world community”, namely, the nexus between raw materials and development. Countries of the “global south” advocated for a new international economic order based on non-aligned principles, comprehensive disarmament, redistribution of wealth and brining about equity among nations. Fifty years on, these dreams remained unrealised or only partially fulfilled.
However, in the light of the fallouts of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and the emergence of the BRICS-plus nations as a pivotal arrangement in world economic and political dynamics, the general objectives of the new international order may at last be near to hand in terms of their realisation.
The dynamic behind the admission of the African Union (AU) into the fold of the G20 grouping is also indicative of the new realisation that the existing model of global economic governance may need to be reformed and revitalised, in order to make it more inclusive and equitable.
Inclusivity, equity and narrowing of the huge gap between the rich and poor nations was the central driving force behind the calls for the establishment of a new international economic order fifty odd years ago. The fact that the exploitative relationships that have been established for decades or centuries in some cases, between the erstwhile metropolitan countries and their colonial dependencies have not been drastically reshaped, necessitated the need for a re-examination of the contexts in which world trade was taking place.
Value addition to exportable raw materials, the drive towards local industrialisation, retention of capital in the global south countries as well as the better management of their resources, formed the kernels of the calls for the new dispensation towards realignment of the world’s economy. A change in the global trade norms to transit from the existing unequal relationship to an equitable, rules-based system, was considered as a desirable indicator of the reformed global economic order.
Likewise, the realisation that industrialisation was an existential requirement for developing countries and therefore, it should be seen as a right and an entitlement, ensured that the drivers of the NIEO were aligned with the maximisation of the control of a nation’s productive forces.
This may seem uncannily similar to the economic doctrine that has been established by the Nigerian Constitution under Chapter Two that delineated the control of the major aspects of the nation’s economy. This is also in keeping with the aspirations of the Lagos Plan of Action for the Economic Development of Africa, 1980-2000.
Other essential components of the NIEO consisted also of monetary issues, the development of raw materials, expansion of investments, and other critical frameworks that would guarantee the sustainability of the economic evolution of the nations of the global south over a reasonable period of time.
That realisation or requirement therefore, led to the aspiration to make the NIEO an issue to be framed within the international and national juridical boundaries driven essentially by appropriate resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly and their articulation in national parliamentary legislation by way of ratification if necessary.
Although the United Nations and its relevant bodies can only debate such issues and make recommendations towards effective mainstreaming of decisions into their work, they do not have the effective capacity to legislate over such matters that would be implemented at the national levels. Only a cooperative disposition agreed to by the members states can apply in terms of the realisation of the objectives of such international agreements.
It is perhaps because of this and other factors that the NIEO could not be concretised fifty years after the start of the debate. It is likely that we may wait another fifty more years for such an aspiration to come to pass if left to the discretion of certain states or regional groupings. However, with the new momentum that has been generated by BRICS-plus and the resolve that has been found in the G20, perhaps we may not have to wait that long to see the emergence of a new order that would usher in better economic prospects for the countries of the global south.
While waiting to see how the situation would unfold, it would be advisable that resource-rich countries of the south such as Nigeria enact appropriate legislation and put in place policies and frameworks that would translate into opportunities towards capturing greater shares of the world markets either in the commerce in raw materials or finished products.
Preferably, the choice should be to quickly transit to the realm of the fourth industrial revolution by taking advantage of the opportunities provided by emerging technologies and innovative management styles to unleash Nigeria’s productive capabilities and ensure her rapid industrialisation and economic development.