Sharing years of experience at the United Nations and ministerial responsibilities for Africa in the British government, Valerie Amos and Mark Malloch Brown opened the high-level series of lectures and debates that will take place at Tate Modern, London, over the next fortnight ahead of the G8 leaders summit.
Introducing the forum’s theme of global citizenship, Baroness Amos, currently UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, emphasised the critical importance of this world-class conversation in a world-class city, supported by global institutions. She added that Tate was an especially fitting host for a series of debates exploring the interconnectedness of politics, economics and culture.
Lord Malloch-Brown, who now serves as chair of the Royal Africa Society and on the boards of the International Crisis Group and Open Society Foundation, remarked that London was a great setting for the debates. With one in three Londoners foreign-born and less than half describing themselves as white British, he said that the UK capital provides a glimpse of the future of global citizenship. The city reflects the ‘richness and brilliance’ that migration brings to society, creating diversity and innovation in both commerce and culture.
Looking to the past, Lord Malloch-Brown warned that great cities don’t remain great for long if they fail the test of global citizenship. Looking forward to the forum’s debates, he asked: ‘What are the ingredients of global citizenship?’
To begin exploring answers to that question, Baroness Amos introduced the evening’s speakers: Mamphela Ramphele, a South African anti-apartheid activist and founder of the party political platform Agang (‘Build South Africa’); Saskia Sassen, Robert S. Lynd professor of sociology and co-chair of the Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University; and Kathleen Newland, co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute.
In their diverse and deeply thought-provoking contributions, the speakers tackled the challenges and opportunities of migration, the meaning of the ‘foreigner’, and where and how decisions about the movement of people are made.
A wide-ranging and vigorous debate followed with questions and comments from the audience, among them ambassadors, politicians and representatives from a range of non-governmental organisations. The issues raised included the role of the media in shaping perceptions of migration and migrants, the experience of migrants in the western world and the failure of mainstream politicians to engage with disaffected voters who express anti-immigrant views.
In an opening address at Zamyn’s Cultural Forum 2013: Global Citizenship, Mamphela Ramphele, founder of the party political platform Agang (‘Build South Africa’), argued that the future health of the global economy depends on tackling both the positive and negative repercussions of migration.
Invoking the ‘spirit of Ubuntu’ – the interconnectedness of all human beings – she stressed the need to adopt a ‘global moral framework that embraces humanism’ on which policies and legislation can be based.
Dr Ramphele, who has served as a managing director of the World Bank, spoke frankly about the possible threats associated with migration, and was critical of the South African government’s handling of the issue since the end of apartheid almost two decade ago.
The absence of adequate policies has had ‘tragic repercussions in my own country’, she said, which has seen ‘the worst of all sides of migration’. This includes a wave of xenophobic attacks on migrant labourers in 2008, in which both local people and migrants were killed.
The question, she said, is how countries can harness the opportunities of migration. She suggested that South Africa’s example provides valuable lessons. Attitudes towards migrants and other outsiders are often driven by inequality and a lack of policies to promote integration.
As ‘global migration is a fact’ that will only become more apparent in the coming years, Dr Ramphele argued for a more positive story, saying that ‘Africa has shown us that migration can be an incentive to drive local growth and sustainability.’ She added: ‘It presents opportunities for states to grow and to prosper, to develop new skills and to forge new ties.’
‘Only by embracing this reality,’ Dr Ramphele concluded, ‘can we ensure that a global economy gives rise to true global prosperity.’
In a keynote lecture at the opening event of Zamyn’s Cultural Forum 2013: Global Citizenship, Saskia Sassen, Robert S. Lynd professor of sociology and co-chair of the Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University, claimed that individual citizens are losing hard-won rights at the same time as large international companies are gaining them.
Speaking about the ‘growing intensity of ideological hatred towards outsiders’, Professor Sassen sought to ‘destabilise the meanings of immigration and citizenship’ by countering misconceptions about migrants and exposing the root causes of hostility towards them.
She pointed out that in 2011 the UK received more remittances (money sent back by citizens living abroad) than Poland. She also pointed out the worryingly sharp rise since 2006 in the amount of land that companies and governments are buying up in foreign countries, which is often overlooked as a factor in the movement of people worldwide. ‘Land-grabbing creates an expulsion dynamic,’ she said.
At the other end of the scale, she claimed, the ‘super-rich do not need to be citizens’, the responsibilities of being a national citizen mean so little to them.
In response to comments from the former culture secretary Lord Smith, Professor Sassen made several suggestions as to how these trends can be countered. She lamented the ‘scarcity of political languages’ and called for the creation of new ‘political terms and categories’ when discussing exiles and migrants.
Citizens could copy international companies and claim ‘portable rights’, she proposed, which could mean an end to the legal discrimination of people in countries where they are not citizens. She claimed that, in the future, governments should dispense with the category of ‘illegal immigrant’ altogether. She said, ‘an immigrant is also a citizen. There is no such thing as an illegal human being.’
Responding to Professor Sassen's lecture, the co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute Kathleen Newland observed that it was not a matter of migration per se, but of who is migrating to where.
In a lively debate with questions and comments from members of the audience, including the UK ambassador of the Philippines his excellency Enrique A. Manalo and representatives from the Royal African Society, Professor Sassen likened the US legislature to ‘a food fight’.
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Image copyright Tate, photography by Nina Joanna Dmyterko