Have We Not Learned Anything At All?

Rakesh Wahi
Published 9 months ago
Rakesh Wahi
RAKESH WAHI, FOUNDER AND PUBLISHER, FORBES AFRICA

I pray for the people there, for the families of the many hundreds that I had met and for the souls of all those that have passed on during this unfortunate conflict; but more than anything, I pray for the children who have witnessed this brutality as history has reminded us that nothing lingers more than the insidious memories in grieved hearts which may perpetuate into a destructive future.

THE WAR IN Ukraine has dominated the news over the last few weeks. There are no winners in war; sadly, as always, it is people who will suffer. The colossal migration of people, the irreparable loss of life and accompanied suffering, the destruction of infrastructure and the economic disaster ahead all point to the futility of decisions made by leaders who have all lost sight of the greater good.

At the core of all irrational decisions lies man’s eternal desire to look for material benefit beyond what one needs. History has a convoluted mechanism of being documented; regardless of the outcomes, this sad human catastrophe will go down as one of life’s greatest regrets.

I am a global citizen today and believe strongly that life’s solutions can never be found in death and destruction; so unless we want to go back to the stone ages and reinvent ourselves, sense lies in finding solutions through dialogue and common sense. The one attribute that leaders need to cast aside is their ego and find a way to end this human carnage.

I am a dreamer by nature and have sublime dreams of life, purity and the greater good. I hope that by the time this article is published we would have the outcomes that we are all praying for and every party to this conflict rediscovers spirituality and redefines their infinite purpose; it cannot be the destruction of humanity and mankind.

Through this difficult period, I want to reflect on fond memories of my time, both in Russia and Ukraine between 1992 and 1996. I want to give historic context by quoting from page 46 of my book Be a Lion:

“As war raged in the Middle East, the Soviet Union was collapsing. Mikhail Gorbachev was a reformist leader, who in 1985 wanted to make changes to the way the Soviet Union was administered. He came up with two principles of change: perestroika, to deal with economic reform, and glasnost, to ease social and media controls. While the principles were laudable, it became impossible for Gorbachev to control the outcome. Media censorship ended in November 1988 and CNN was the first international TV station to be beamed into Russia, in 1989. The subsequent proliferation of media made it almost impossible to control the process of change. The Berlin Wall came down in November 1989 and Russia declared sovereignty on 12 June 1990. On 8 December 1991, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was formed. At its conception it consisted of 10 former Soviet republics, namely Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Gorbachev resigned as the last president of the Soviet Union on 25 December 1991 and on the following day the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was dissolved.”

Against this backdrop, I spent five years in this region, operating from our base in Dubai; similar to
the last 18 years in sub-Saharan Africa. What always amazed me was the wealth in the region; not just the mineral resources but the quality of the people, their education, the research and educational institutions, the architecture in Moscow, Petersburg and Kyiv. In Russia,

I spent time in Moscow, Petersburg, Perm and a few other places like Magnitogorsk in the Urals. In Ukraine, I have lovely memories of my time in Kyiv, Donetsk, Dnepropetrovsk and Odessa; I cannot even imagine what these cities would be looking like today. I pray for the people there, for the families of the many hundreds that I had met and for the souls of all those that have passed on during this unfortunate conflict; but more than anything, I pray for the children who have witnessed this brutality as history has reminded us that nothing lingers more than the insidious memories in grieved hearts which may perpetuate into a destructive future.

It will take a long time for the hearts and minds to heal but what is the future from here and where do we go. I had written when Covid unleashed its fury in 2020 that the pandemic had forced us all into our shells to reflect on what was truly important and find our renewed purpose.

I quote: “The pollution has lifted; we should see our metamorphosis clearly now. Choices are ours to make and we must reconsider our priorities.” In December 2022, I wrote: “As profound as it sounds, through the trials of 2020, business lessons aside, my three visits to my ophthalmologist were symbolic of getting clarity of vision. Covid-19 in my view has been a global visit to our respective ophthalmologists; our vision had become blurred and some corrective procedures have been performed.

We all know the ‘why’, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of our circumstances, all that’s left is the ‘will’ to fix things. There is really no brain surgery required. Simply put, it’s all in the implementation of measurable actions with honesty, humility, integrity and honor. Most people I have interacted with unanimously agree that our world is going to change in many ways; consequently, we are likely to adapt to these changes more rapidly than anticipated. It’s our conduct that will define the change that we wish to see.”

Have we not learned anything at all?

The world is not going to be the same after this conflict is behind us. Instead of moving towards a sustainable future, the insecurities are bound to increase. The first ramification is going to be in the global increase in defence spending; some countries have already announced this. Instead of food and water security, healthcare and education, governments are going to catalyse the ‘guns versus butter’ equation in favor of guns. The more worrying part is the monetary realignment. There will be a significant realignment in the geo- political arena; the most immediate is the opportunistic bond between Russia and China (enemy’s enemy is a friend with regards to the US). These two giants with common boundaries, logistic routes and an aligned Mongolia can service each other’s needs without any intermediary platform or help; monetary or otherwise. With Europe largely fragmented and in turmoil, the Indian sub-continent neutral, outside of Japan, US and Germany, there is no other economic power that can challenge this emerging Sino-Russian collaboration.

The other major move that is going to begin is a radical change to self-sufficiency and indigenization. There is far too much dependence today on developed countries to service the needs of the developing world.

It does not take a rocket scientist to understand the insecurity of sanctions; all nations will start preparing for a future that is sustainable and where reliance is within regional alliances. This extends to the business world; everything from franchises and intellectual property will need to be relooked. There is a need to ensure that when any patent of intellectual property is registered, it has value only if
it has significant value addition in the country where it is sold failing which it must be cancelled. This will expedite rapid transformation towards indigenization.

While this is a complex subject, one needs to really see the sustainability of financial sanctions on Russia and its trading partners. If sanctions apply to anyone dealing with Russia, the dissemination and evaporation of global economics and financial markets will be faster than any known vaporization in history. So how will this selection or partial selection of sanctions, including those by multinational corporations, work and will the negatively impacted countries accept this hypocrisy; and what moral high ground will those adjudicators have in making these decisions; and where will it leave their leadership in the free world? These dilemmas are real and will need to be addressed in the period ahead or do we expect that the sanctions will be lifted and the principles of humanity are relegated in favor of economic interests? What lessons are we to draw from such futile face-saving actions for the future that are nothing but rhetoric?

Energy in all its forms plays a vital role in global alignments. Other than Venezuela in Latin America, all members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are in the Middle East and Africa. Oil is a finite resource and OPEC will want to ensure its long-term sustainability and want to remain neutral to sanctions. How will this be impacted if China as the largest consumer of oil, rearranges its purchases largely from Russia (a non-OPEC member)? OPEC has already made its position clear of not increasing oil production which will inflate the price of oil for all countries that toe the line of sanctions. Similarly, the European Union cannot in the short term cut their much-needed gas supplies from Russia. How then can sanctions be a serious consideration; it is likely that they will only apply as convenient.

The US dollar has been the default reserve currency but this is going to change in the medium-term. China was already insecure about this historic imbalance but this conflict and connected sanctions will force alternatives; the shape and form will emerge in the not-so-distant future. It is anticipated that China will surpass the US as the largest economy by 2030, which would likely place the Renminbi as the default reserve currency; will this get catalysed by the current events?

These are just some of the issues that the world will face going forward. As a citizen of the free world,
I now question the relevance of institutions like the United Nations that were constituted to bring a form of unity to the world. The League of Nations was formed after World War I and it is recorded in history that the failure of the League of Nations was one of the reasons that resulted in World War II. The United Nations was formed after World War II with the following stated purpose: “The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization aiming to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international cooperation, and be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations. It is the world’s largest and most familiar international organization.”

Is what is happening now because of the complete failure of the United Nations’ role where blocks like the European Union and NATO are playing a more dominant role in the alignment of interests of the developed world? Who will answer to this incongruity and how do we ensure that nations live and remain militarily nonaligned? Is that idealism or a necessity for the future?

Like many of you, I am confused and helpless about our future but more than that, I am concerned about what legacy are we going to leave for our children and future generations?