Pheko:                          I wasn’t actually sure what to expect, I must say. I thought it was going to be one of these quite academic, inward-looking type growth, post-growth, de-growth sorts of festivals, which were really trying to perhaps reflect on ways to do things differently and which were hopefully going to be able to be at least more self-reflective in terms of culpabilities and accountabilities. But my expectations were modest, very modest, especially because it was, of course, it was Eurocentric, Euro-centred and there was very little space on the programme even beforehand for that kind of outward-looking discourse setting. And I think my modest expectations were met.

The Mint:                     Okay, well, let’s cut. We’ll explore that further. Where is your critique, then? You had low expectations and you were disappointed as well. You weren’t quite disappointed, but those expectations were met. Why was that?

Pheko:                          Met my very modest aspirations. Absolutely. Well, lots of reasons, Henry. I think you have to bear in mind that coming from the majority world and going into what seemed to be essentially a European family meeting, toward intents and purposes, and framed accordingly beyond growth and at the bastion, within the bastion of European governance. It was also for me, it was bound to be something that I found quite alienating in some respects, potentially quite tokenizing for me and potentially very much-

The Mint:                     So you felt you were a token. You were a token there.

Pheko:                          … I didn’t feel like a token, but I thought it could potentially be a tokenizing gesture. And just the one panel that was on exploring de-growth from the global south and they fly me in, they fly in my colleague who has been based in Bhutan but is of South Asian origin, now based in Canada. So I mean, it’s hard not to get away from the tokenizing aesthetic of that, isn’t it, rather than really having much greater engagement with the majority world or the global south. But that, I didn’t expect more than that. I mean, as I say, the way I framed it at the end was I said, “It’s a family meeting of people who don’t seem to understand that the neighbourhood is in crisis and that that neighbourhood is in crisis because of them.

                                    So I get concerned when I think the post-growth, the de-growth, in particular, the de-growth movement, which I’m not really aligned to, but in the course of my work, I do bump into and work with a lot of the de-growth folks and have some regard for some of their work is that I think the de-growth seems to have de-politicised and de-centred the notion that this economy and this global architecture has a particular origin. There’s an origin story to all of this. There’s even an origin story to the climate degradation, isn’t there? There’s an origin story to the reasons why we have the kinds of inequities and the crass chasm in redistributional power that seems to be taking place. And I think that when we think around the way that perhaps global activists, global thinkers, and different players are speaking around reparations and climate reparations around this, we have to remember that this is not just because the climate suddenly, the ozone layer suddenly opened up, that the planet is spontaneously warming up.

                                    There’s a centuries’ old history of extractiveness, of excessive extractiveness and an excessive mining from the soil, from the air now, extracting from trees, extracting from plants, and extracting from entire lands.

That of course, is to do with the colonial imperial complex so that the earth didn’t just warm up spontaneously. But there was very little… I think one or two people mentioned that. Jason Hickel was very helpful in framing that and in framing that sort of debate in that explicit way. But I think that for me that it was just like, “Well, here we go again in this sort of really disingenuous way of removing culpability and making situations historical orphans.”

The Mint:                     I wonder, Liepollo. I Mean, was there any moments or discussions or were there any positives that you took away and I suppose compared to what, I suppose, that…

Pheko:                          Thanks the question. I mean, though, I think there were a couple of really great panels. I mean, Vandana Shiva can always be relied upon. This is true. Jason can be relied upon. Raj Patel can be relied upon. I can be relied upon and quite a few other voices. But I think the fact that the numbers of people and the speakers who presented a heterodox or a more progressive perspective does speak to the fact, does speak to my concern, which was that it was very much a white bread, very vanilla affair, so to speak, where it seemed as though it was a gathering, which even though it was based, located in Europe, doesn’t understand that this is a global context and that everything that is taking place in Brussels and in those hallowed halls has particular and direct linear impact on the rest of the world and particularly on the majority world on the global south.

The Mint:                     Liepollo, can you talk… so what would you have wished to see?

Pheko:                          I think I would’ve wished to see much more, if we’re talking about growth and multiple… I would’ve liked to see, reflect on a meeting that understands multi-polarity. So the fact that Europe is not the only centre of power, so that even though Europe is a community, it would be useful for them as a community to be able to recognise that they’re a community among many others globally. So in community with the African Union, in community with Asia, in community with Asia Pacific, in community with Latin American interests, and also in community with the different interest groups which have been talking and resisting different forms of, the different kinds of growth excesses and their impact on our economies, on our livelihoods, on our sustainable development, whatever that may or may not mean on the debt complex, for example, on the ways in which international relations, international economic relations do play into the complex of a unidirectional power play and which is led by the US and by Europe. And I think that without that sort of self-awareness, indeed this was taking place in Europe.

                                    So I already said at the outset that my expectations were very modest. So I’m not here trying to recreate and reinvent something that I didn’t see. I didn’t see anything that I wasn’t expecting. So it met my low expectations. And I do think that it’s important for me to be able to name that. As a person who’s fairly neutral, I have no vested-ness, per se, in these debates other than that, of course, we live in a global world. We are in community with each other and I think there was kind of this really pious tone that seemed to be set, hence the booing, indeed, hence the booing, which was quite appropriate because there were one or two extremely tone-deaf, talking about growth, talking about, “Well, let’s continue trying to grow the economy.” It’s like, “Well, that’s what we’re trying not to do or we’re trying to do this differently.” A lot of greenwashing which was taking place.

                                    But I think the other piece that I want to mention is that it’s… and go back and I guess insist that the idea that we can talk about climate and not talk about coloniality and expect that the presence of a Vandana Shiva, the presence of a Jason Hickel, the presence of a me, for example, that somehow in some respects excavates, cleanses, absolves the meeting, the conference of its own responsibility to begin to take those sorts of statements and translate them into seeing some blind spots. There’s so many blind spots and to seeing those and then beginning to iterate those into forward-looking policy and outward-looking policy. That’s just not enough.

                                    But this is the thing. It’s kind of the Brussels bubble was at its own, what’s at its very best. And I think this sort of sanctimoniousness is not going to get either Europe or the world in which Europe is in community very far, I think, going forward. And it doesn’t do anything to shift the needle on questions of how we’re going to begin to talk about reparative justice, reparative economics, restitutional economics, for example, and those are the kinds of conversations which I think are very important.

                                    So I mean, the panel that I was participating on, we were talking about wellbeing economics, which I think is myself and my colleague, Ritu Verna. We did a six-country study for about a year, unfortunately, during Covid, so we couldn’t travel. But I mean, it was looking around how different contexts, different countries, across three different continents, so three completely different contexts are looking at what wellbeing economics could look like. And in every single case, the question of historical culpability emerged, the question of how we need to look at perhaps a more feminist-centred viewpoint of the economy of redistribution, also immersion. I think that these iterations are not happening in isolation. They’re happening because we are in conversation with each other and in undefensive, if I may say, conversation with each other.

The Mint:                     You’ve criticised this particular event, which was in the EU Parliament and probably for the EU Parliament was radical. But obviously, that’s not a very difficult thing for it to be. I mean, can anything grow out of it? Is there a space to meet? Is there a global justice movement? Is it growing anyway?

Pheko:                          Well, they’ve been there, Henry. I mean, none of this has happened in a vacuum, right? I mean, I think there already are many social movements, global… I mean, I don’t want to say global because it’s difficult to sort of… we’re always looking for these umbrella, which is a very corporate approach in and of itself, and I think we should be careful of that. But I mean, I think at local league, local regional level, there’s a myriad of social movements, movement academia and so forth. And I mean, I personally eschew the binary between activism and scholarship because I sit very squarely on the cusp of radical hardcore activism and very rigorous academic scholarship. So I actually think that there’s the scope for that sort of, that nexus to come together. The myriad… I mean, the wellbeing alliance, the different offshoots of that. There’s the global tapestry of alternatives. There are tonnes and I also don’t want to be non-egalitarian and name some and not others as well because that’s also problematic.

                                    But I mean, at national level, I mean, I know on the African continent, they are myriad. There’s a clock going. There are myriad sorts of movements that are taking place that are very sovereign and very autonomous that have nothing to do with trying to be organised by INGOs and so on and so forth. But I also think that it’s important to… I want to go back and insist, though, that it’s really important for Europe to understand that it’s in community with others. So if, for example, I mean, we can see the horrible, right, the pendulum swinging, right, the nightmarish possibility of Trump even running again. I mean, running, him jogging, him strolling again. I mean, any of those scenarios are just nightmarish. And it just begs the question of what kind of a government, pseudo-democracy would even allow anybody who is so ethically compromised, to say the least, to even be in a situation where he’s running for office or even being punted in conversation.

                                    But we can see. Le Pen. I mean, I think Macron is even a right wing-ish himself. And I think that what Europe needs to understand in the US, which is why I’m begging friends in the US not to allow Trump to happen again, is that this has global impact. When that nonsense, when the proverbial hits the fan, we all smell it. It splashes on us as well. It translates into policy. It translates into trade relations. It translates into conversations on how the conversations on debt, on carbon emissions, who agrees to what, who signs to what. And of course, it is re-inscripted in the way the particular power relations have been conducted over the last 40, 50, 60 years and the contestation between global north and global south re-inscript themselves. And I think the further right a regime is and the further right the sentiment in the north is, certainly that has a direct impact on certain things.

                                    I mean, there was a difference between Obama in office and Trump in office and not in the ways that you’d expect, in different ways, in more discreet ways as well. So I think that, again, this kind of insularity and we in Europe, we’re sorting ourselves out and we are happy with what we are achieving, all of this happens in the context of community. And I think unless we’re willing to be more communitarian in our outlook and appreciate that this is an ecosystem. I mean, especially as people who are interested in different heterodox ways of global and institutional arrangements, that really has to be very much front and centre.

The Mint:                     But is post-growth or de-growth as a heading useful? Do you see that?

Pheko:                          I don’t think it should be either. I’m not a proponent of either. I just think those are those fluff. I think that they both can have their own levels of utility. They also have their own levels of fluffiness. And I think that really, we need to be thinking about things that go to the heart of the matter. If we’re talk-social justice, reparation, restoration, ETC. Decolonize the climate. I mean, how’s that for a banner to get behind? I think we should say what we mean, where we are conveying the culpability, we are conveying the urgency, and we’re conveying that this is not a new struggle. As I say, the climate, the globe didn’t just get warm. We are conveying that this is linked to a history and her stories of different kinds of extraction and climate imperialism that we are now seeing the result of and continuing to see the result of.

                                    And that’s also something that’s got more, when I say global, I mean international because the two aren’t the same, international resonance. If you’re talking to somebody in my neighbourhood and you’re talking about climate, carbon, boohoo carbon emissions, they’ll be like, “Come on, be serious. I mean, what are you actually trying to say? If you mean… what are you actually trying to convey?” So I think it’s important that our language should have a level of international and universal intent and also, convey the solidarity that we should also be walking in, I think. If we say we are in community or trying to be in community in some way, even though, of course, we appreciate that contexts and perspectives between the south and the north, the majority and the minority world will, of course, diverge at certain points, but we hope that they’ll converge in the areas that are important.

The Mint:                     Brilliant. I think there are… I can see the strands of that sort of challenging and the destructiveness on the global south. Maybe there’s places to meet there. So hopefully, communities can come together around this and look for languages that suit different areas. But this has been a fascinating discussion and it’s great to have that different perspectives, different views, and thank you very much.


Lebohang Liepollo Pheko

Lebohang is an activist scholar, public intellectual, development practitioner for over 25 years. Her  broad research Interests  include  Afrikan political economy, States and nationhood, international trade & global financial governance …

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