Nick Coger has stimulated very important discussions. I would wish to get to one dimension of the discussions that focuses on the negotiation tools farmers need in order to compete in the 21st Century. I would like to present my discussion by use of the power cube that was developed by John Gaventa of the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex. It has 3 dimensions; spaces, places and the faces of power and offers a way to examine participatory action in development and changes in power relations by and/or on behalf of poor and marginalized people.
The Power Cube Framework (PCF) looks at power in relation to how spaces for engagement are created, the levels of power (from local to global), as well as different forms of power across them. It enables strategic assessments of the possibilities for transformative action by citizens, and how to make them more effective. It does this by distinguishing participatory action along 3 dimensions- places, space and faces of power. I will concentrate on visible, invisible as well as hidden power to effectively bring out my views.
Visible power: In the first form of power (visible power), contests over interests are assumed to be visible in public places, which in turn are presumed to be relatively open. This level includes the visible and definable aspects of political power- the formal rules, structures, authorities, institutions and procedures of decision-making.
Hidden power: Is where entry of certain interests and actors into public spaces is privileged over others through a prevailing mobilization of bias rules of the game like Bilateral trade agreements or Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) and Export bans; The packaging requirement, Trade-Related International Patent/Copy rights (TRIPs), Rules of Origin (RoO) and Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIM) by supranational states. Certain powerful people and institutions maintain their influence by controlling who gets to the decision-making table and what gets on the agenda. These power dynamics operate at many levels to exclude and devalue concerns and representation of the less powerful groups who happen to be the developing countries.
Invisible power: Thismanifests itself where conflict is more invisible, through internalization of powerlessness, or through dominating ideologies, values and forms of behaviors in line with Washington-backed free-trade that is informed by the neo-liberal paradigm. The market information we all need to effectively participate in the commodity production and marketing negotiations in form of history, data or knowledge has been used selectively (skewed) in favor of the powerful supranational states. Invisible power shapes the psychological and ideological boundaries of participation: significant issues such as increment of development assistance to sub-Saharan Africa and the need to subsidize agriculture are kept away from the decision-making table.
The minds and consciousness of the various actors in developing world are kept away from the decision-making table. By influencing how individuals think (in terms of free-market economics) about their place in the world, this level shapes peoples’ beliefs, sense of self and acceptance of the status quo – even their own superiority or inferiority. This perpetuates exclusion and inequality by defining what is normal, acceptable and safe.
Based on the above analysis, we can be able to come up with the tools needed by our farmers to compete favorably in this century;
· The need to enhance equitable participation in multilateral trade negotiations (such as WTO);
· The need to enhance the advocacy approaches by NGOs such as Oxfam in form of public debate, informed research and engagement of the “movers and shakers” in Geneva, Paris Brussels and Washington for a “level playing field”;
· The market information we all need to effectively participate in the multilateral trade negotiations in form of history, data or knowledge has been used selectively (skewed) in favor of the powerful supranational states. With the most sophisticated and up-to-date ICT tools, data base requirements, statistics and technology as visible forms of power, the powerless can hardly beat the chief negotiators (with power) at their own game. Even simple requests for information are denied. This has to be challenged if we are to compete favorably in this century;
· Many decision-making spaces are closed to poor farmers in Africa; decisions are made by a set of actors behind closed doors, without any broadening of boundaries for inclusion. This should be changed to include us;
· A power form that is invisible or in which conflict is invisible is exhibited through the dominating ideologies or values of free trade that is informed by the Washington-born neoliberal paradigm that influences the outcome of the negotiations as propounded by Gaventa’s PCF. This perpetuates exclusion and inequality by defining what is normal, acceptable and safe. It should be revised if we are to accrue equitable outcomes with the big brothers; and,
·The Western Media is a visible form of power backed by invisible power actors who spread the gospel according to the neoliberal paradigm through avenues such as BBC, VOA, CNN, Digest, Gemini, Sky News, Daily mail and blogs. This tool has to be skewed away from the poor. If the poor are to compete favorably in the 21st Century, the media should have a balanced way of viewing issues to include the needs and concerns of the poor farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.