Wednesday 14 April 2021
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Tackling populist nationalism

Populist nationalism and implications on multilateralism and future relevance of supranational bodies
The world is witnessing unprecedented populist nationalism as amplified by the outcomes of Brexit and the election of President Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. We can predict with some degree of certainty that we are likely to see similar future election outcomes and increased interstate tensions.
The questions to ask are: Should humanity be concerned about these developments and how can we understand and explain the phenomenon of populist nationalism? Are there lessons that we ought to learn from Brexit and the 2016 United States election? Thirdly, what are the implications of populist nationalism on multilateralism and future relevance of supranational bodies? As we might recall, many political and media commentators did not predict the results that these two events have produced? One of the possible reasons could be the use of rational thinking as a conceptual framework to analyse and predict political outcomes.
Secondly, I would argue that the commentators have underestimated the role and place of emotions in political decision-making. The outcomes seem to suggest that voters do not necessarily and always use rational thinking when exercising their voting rights. It is also important to take into account that both Brexit and the 2016 United States election campaigns seem to have focused on key inward-looking domestic issues. Some of these issues included anti-establishment sentiments as a result of real or perceived disconnect between the governing elite and the ordinary people as well as immigration issues. Domestic policies inform and influence foreign policy.
I would therefore, suggest that the outcomes of Brexit and the United States election have implications on the future and continued relevance of multilateral organisations and supranational bodies. They also have implications on the notions of globalisation, regional integration, global citizenship, global governance and maintenance of international peace and human security. The UNESCO Constitution observes that “ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war.”
Humankind learning from past horrible and tragic experiences has established universal values and principles in an attempt to manage human and interstate relations. These values and principles include respect for human dignity, promotion of the common good above individual interests, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and forging a common destiny. The main challenge seems to be our short memories and thus continue to repeat past mistakes. Both the 2030
Agenda for Sustainable Development and 2063 Agenda of the African Union are in the final analysis centred on promoting human dignity and human security. They are also informed by the realisation that the challenges facing humanity today, which include ending poverty in all its forms everywhere, combatting climate change and its impacts, promotion of just, peaceful and inclusive societies and revitalizing global partnership require solidarity and global leadership.
I would argue that the outcomes of Brexit and the 2016 United States election are retrogressive and negate on the objectives of building a common future and forging a common destiny. They have implications on promoting universal values and principles of respect for human dignity and fundamental human rights and freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. The main objective of establishing multilateral institutions and supranational bodies is to promote and enhance global governance and maintenance of international peace and human security.
They are intended to prevent future tragedies at all costs by promoting the common good and human security founded upon moral solidarity of humankind. Regional integration and multilateralism succeed when nation-states are convinced that they are individually weak to address global challenges. Secondly, regional integration should be based on surrendering some national sovereignty to supranational bodies, if it is to succeed. It further requires unity, collaboration and cooperation. One of the possible consequences of populist nationalism on developing countries, including Africa and Namibia could be enhanced marginalisation in global affairs and tensions in interstate relations and in multilateral organisations. It is critical therefore, that Africa produces new leaders such as Nelson Mandela with foresight and ethical and moral standing who would rebuke leaders who undermine universal values and principles. Secondly, Africa must in practice accept that many African States are fragile and weak states.
They will not be in positions to confront global challenges and articulate the African agenda in global contexts of real politics. We should also take note that the world is returning to the real practice of realists’ theory of international relations where the powerful dominates. We are moving away from the values and principles of collaboration and cooperation in global affairs. What would save the world might be ethical and moral leadership, promotion of the common good above populist nationalism, solidarity and an informed African leadership. We are in the post-Brexit and President Donald Trump era. It is about real politics in global affairs, hence the need for value-based and principled strategies in international engagements.
*Dr. Marius Kudumo is the Director of International Relations at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. His areas of expertise are Public Policy, Governance and International Relations.

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