BY MULUGETA GUDETA
The third G-20 Tourism Working Group meeting was held from 22nd to 24th may 2023 in Srinagar Jammu and Kashmir. The G-20 leaders’ summit is expected to take place in September this year. The majority of the G-20 member countries have attended the meeting while Egypt, China and Saudi Arabia boycotted it for one reason or another. The G-20 countries are generally selected on the basis of their economic rankings in the world, while Egypt is a member of the group from Africa, together with South Africa. While Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa, the country is not a member of the G-20 highlighting the fact that Africa is underrepresented at the summit.
The 2023 G-20 tourism summit in Kashmir focused on the theme, “One Earth, One Family, One Future” which has also a global appeal because the Earth belongs to everyone, the international community is one big community and that the world shares a common future. While the motto of the summit is lofty in its appeal, it has failed to allow more countries to take part in its deliberations simply because they are not economic heavyweights. Thus the essence of the motto contradicts the nature of participation that is small and non-inclusive.
Many cultural issues have these days become the concerns of the entire world and decisions such how to promote tourism and encourage international understanding, share scientific or educational knowledge. How to best protect international cultural heritages, fall within the domain of common global concerns. That is why we have already established international institutions for that purpose. The richest nations of the world should sit alone or in an exclusive club and pass decisions that affect the whole planet. Climate change affects both the rich and poor countries equally although the latter are the first victims while they cause no harm on the others.
There are many burning issues in the world that rich countries can handle alone and other issues that the entire world would not settle without full cooperation among rich and poor countries. Rich countries can for instance get together and discuss collective security issues such as nuclear deterrence or take a common stand on how to support or oppose issues of regional or global conflicts. When it comes to common issues such as global warming, climate change, international security or cultural issues like tourism, education, science and technology, the entire world has a stake in them and most countries should be invited to participate in such summits or confabs.
The world is increasingly being divided into G-plus blocks are if they are two-storied residential apartments, you have the G-7 group of countries that are considered the most developed in the world. They recently met in the Japanese historic city of Hiroshima. The meeting was not about world economics per se but the Russo-Ukraine war, more of a diplomatic platform than anything else. You have also the G-9 group of countries that include G-7 plus two countries added more recently. Last but not least, we have the G-20 group of developed countries whose membership is broader than the last two groups mentioned above.
All these groupings are largely forums for flexing economic muscles by countries that are fortunate enough to escape the group of poor or poorest countries that are always marginalized. Unfortunately, the fate of developing countries is decided during those kinds of confabs. The rich countries gather regularly to deliberate on issues that poorer countries have to abide by and implement whether they like them or not. The rich discuss climate change but the victims are poor countries whose economies are being devastated and their populations bearing the brunt of climate crisis more than their richer counterparts.
India is hosting this year what the media calls the G-20 Tourism conference. Once again, developing countries are not invited to attend the meeting at least in their capacity as observers. It is not surprising if conferences on nuclear proliferation are attended only by rich countries because the issue is not their priority. But tourism is the priority of developing countries more than that of developed ones. Tourism for developing countries is their bread and butter, one of the main economic sectors that contribute a great deal to their survival. Tens of millions of people live on the proceeds from tourism directly or indirectly. Tourism is the safest and cleanest economic alternative.
As such, developing countries are fighting against climate change and environmental degradations while at the same time they work to promote tourism in their respective countries. Tourism is also a big income earner for developed countries too. But it is not as decisive activity with multiple ramifications. In developing countries, tourism may be seen as a potential economic game changer if it is promote with determination, sustainably and at lower cost.
India has become a member of G-20 group of countries relatively recently. It is still considered a country with one of the highest GDP growth rates in the world alongside China and on its way out to becoming an Asian economic superpower. This is a great achievement for India and the other countries within the G-20 and outside of it. However, India is also closer to the group of developing countries than to developed or rich ones. Its ambition and hard work to join the group of wealthy countries is both commendable and exemplary. Yet, it should not overlook the fact that when it comes to issues like tourism development, India has more to do with developing than developed countries, being herself a great tourist attraction.
As we said above, tourism is a pillar of the economies of developing countries and whatever is discussed in international forums about this issue is a legitimate and direct concern of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. As a practice, rich countries do not care that much for nature, cultural heritages, climate change or ancient cultures and traditions. What are now considered developed countries are indeed rich in technology finance, military power; but they do not have cultures and traditions that they are proud of because they are not the products of ancient civilizations like those of the Greeks and the Romans or Russia or China. Most of them developed their present economic and military might right after the second World War which is not even a century old. They do not have much to show the world by way of ancient civilization, cultures or traditions.
African countries on the other hand are hugely endowed with traditions and cultures dating back to many centuries. Egypt is not an economic world power but it is one of the leading countries in the world in terms of culture, tradition, civilization and the invention of many things that the world is now proud of having and using. The same can be said about Ethiopia, Sudan, and scores of other African countries. In Asia we have the Khmer civilization in present day Kampuchea, in India, Japan, and scores of other countries.
Latin American countries boast of thousands of years old Maya civilization, and the cultures and traditions of indigenous Indians and other ethnic groups. On balance the developing world is far richer in tourist attractions than the developed countries. The main rational behind the establishment of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is the need for the preservation and development of these ancient traditions and cultures and serve the material and spiritual requirements of modernization in relatively less developed countries. The development of tourism is obviously part and parcel of this global quest.
India is a great nation whose democracy and development is largely based on its ancient civilizations, traditions and cultures. It has preserved its historical heritages in an impressive way and has built the largest democracy in the world by preserving its faiths, belief systems, arts, literature and cultures both before and after its independence from British colonialism in 1948. In less than 70 years, India has achieved what others could not achieve even in a couple of hundred years. India was forced to carry a heavy burden of history and yet managed to turn its human and cultural resources to build one of the most modern and powerful economic system. America carried far lighter historical burden and yet it took the country more than 200 years to become the leading economic power in the world.
The recent decision by the Indian government to hold the G-20 tourism confab in Indian Kashmir looks and sounds more of a diplomatic maneuvering. It may be a step towards winning the support of Western powers in relation to the disputed Kashmir region rather than an attempt to promote tourism simply because the countries that matter the most are not invited to the Kashmir event. They could be invited at least as guests with observer status because tourism is an issue that agitates most developing countries and their economic welfare largely depends on its development. The decision to host the G-20 tourism confab is understandable from the point of view of India’s national interests and the key role it plays on the international arena. However, it should not overlook the fact that tourism is also in the interest of developing countries as it is that of developed ones.
India was the once mighty movement of non-aligned nations also called Non-Aligned Movement or NAM for shirt. In those days, India’s foreign policy tilted more towards so-called Third World countries than the first world nations. It would be unrealistic to ask India to behave as the once leading member of NAM because times have drastically changed. However, even in the current conditions the solidarity among Third World countries should sometimes be revisited not as a journey into political nostalgia but as a legitimate concern to the suffering and often forgotten developing nations and their peoples.
THE ETHIOPIAN HERALD WEDNESDAY 31 MAY 2023