By Njoki Njehu | January 2020
As a Kenyan grassroots activist and feminist, I never thought I would go to Davos. Never wanted to. But this year I am going with a specific purpose - to tell them that it’s time for the billionaire class to be abolished.
After 50 years of failure, this should be the last World Economic Forum. If we are serious about fighting inequality, stopping catastrophic climate change, dismantling patriarchy, and creating a world where our rights are not compromised, we must abolish the systems that perpetuate these crises. We must not fall for the hand wringing and the theatrics of economic elites who want to continue extreme profit making - as usual. They do not have solutions to the problems we face because they fuel and drive inequality - they cause the problems.
When we see headlines that praise billionaire Jeff Bezos for his initiative to colonise the moon but absolve him from accountability when his employees are forced to pee in bottles to maintain ‘high productivity’, we know who and what systems propel the crisis.
It has been said that every billionaire represents a policy failure. Such concentration of wealth in single individuals while abject poverty persists in our world is a betrayal of the principles of human welfare proclaimed by virtually all governments and all belief systems. That betrayal must end now.
What I have witnessed in my many years as a grassroots activist in Kenya and as part of global movements like the Fight Inequality Alliance is that wealth does not just equal money - it is also about power, influence, impunity and vested interests. No one should have to pee in a bottle or wear a diaper in order to meet ‘productivity’ quotas. It is outrageous, it is unjust! But that is the reality of the world we are living in now.
So when billionaires gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum to ‘discuss the world’s problems and solve inequality’, we need to call it out for what it is. This is hypocrisy, and we cannot let it go unchallenged. As Australia burns, these billionaires will be in the cold, icy Alpine Davos to discuss the climate crisis. As Jakarta, Indonesia drowns in devastating floods, champagne will flow abundantly. And I am sure in the discussions of mining, oceans, gender parity, youth and so on for ‘Stakeholder Capitalism’ many will pat themselves on the back for how well they are doing, benefiting from the status quo.
And a little billionaire charity is no substitute for the economic, social and climate justice that we, the 99 percent, are fighting for and that is imperative for the survival of people and the planet. Their power is so vast, their greed without end, that the planet and ordinary people are but pawns in their immoral and corrupt games. The billionaire class buys politicians and elections, they buy democracies without regard or regret. They trash the planet but make it look like they are doing God’s work for seeking to colonise outer space because they made Earth unlivable.
We cannot trust the arsonists to put out the fire. For people to take back their future and gain their rightful power, billionaires need to lose influence and money. They must pay their taxes, pay and treat their employees in a dignified and just manner, respect the planet’s boundaries, and not treat democracies as commodities that can be bought and sold.
Davos is not a conference that I am looking forward to participating in, simply because Davos and its ostensible objectives are futile. The WEF and its billionaire fans will not solve the crisis of inequality. But I will be delivering the message that at the same time as Davos, more exciting and dynamic actions will be happening in many countries, initiated by the people who live and die at the heart of the inequality crisis. And this is where the world should be looking and listening for solutions. It is where change is really coming from.
Thousands of people will gather in around 30 countries in the Global Protest to #FightInequality. Their demands for dignity and justice include: universal education, health and nutrition, social security services from the government, redistributive tax policies, dignified jobs, radical action on climate change and more. They will make noise to slam the hypocrisy of Davos and underline the gap between the richest and the most impoverished in society. Our allies will hike to the Davos mountain to demand an end to Davos. The world is rising against inequality and the billionaire class cannot lead this revolution - despite what they will be saying in Davos.
I leave Kenya for Davos with a message - Time’s up! Abolish the billionaire class. They need to know that we see through their lies and deception. A just and fair world can never exist with billionaires in it. The WEF is a failure and the billionaires who comprise it make it so. It’s time for genuine solutions to be implemented, and these will come from the hot, sweaty streets of Manila and Delhi, not Davos. I don’t expect to be invited back.