Nairobi is the trade battleground during WTO-MC10 meeting

Leonard Wanyama | If you think the only war Kenya faces is that of terrorism against the Al-Shabaab, you are either dead wrong or walking around with your eyes blind open. Recent events in past weeks obviously point to our struggles against corruption while our daily lives comprise various fights against either poverty, ignorance, disease, potholes, El Nino or a combination of all these.

As we head towards another very globally local event, in hosting the World Trade Organization (WTO) 10th Ministerial Conference (MC10), Professor Yash Tandon reminds us in a new book that Trade is War.

Professor Tandon informs readers, from developing countries in particular, that if peace is to be achieved then there must be preparations for war. The ways of war in trade may not be literally fought with Kalashnikovs but the outcomes are just as bad if not worse.

When countries lose livelihoods, communities have their industries dissipated, societies have their economies laid to waste and peoples' lives are destroyed in much the same way as it happens in physical conflict -because of trade negotiations- then trade is truly an act of war. These loses ultimately strip away the dignity of individuals to the point of them being the walking-living-dead.

With such high stakes, trade is indeed a theatre of warfare for which developing countries must never surrender especially on the basis of expected losses to lives of the downtrodden. Professor Tandon therefore looks towards hope from people power and he urges keeping faith in what it means to pursue freedom. Relying on 30 years of experiences as a scholar, activist or trade advisor in East and Southern Africa Tandon's book takes you through various locations and shifts through different situations.

You see the experiences of normal people from villages to cities and ultimately different countries. It places characters in their global position within the international political hierarchy of trade relations. This movement paints a fast paced picture of trade as a form of combat. Readers will quickly get the feel of negotiations in real time 'jujitsu' as interests are pushed or resisted by many parties.

Reading this book is important in order to appreciate the predicament of developing countries in international economics in an unsophisticated way. As a political economist, all things held constant, the author's preoccupation with using simplified language throughout the book is a godsend for any reader. It helps that one won't have to encounter a moment of explanations about what Pareto optimality is.

WTO is a monolith for which Professor Tandon points is an example that 'The Empire still lives'. This is through subtle or not so subtle machinations of major power alliances. Hosting the MC10 in Nairobi this December will therefore locate the theatre of battle against empire right at Kenya's door step.

The obviously vicious struggles on points of definition over growth and development will extend to language in term of where to place punctuation as well. Its clear traditional bureaucratic tactics that paralyze processes will be employed to stall demands by developing nations and their respective citizens.

Tandon recommends that standing up to Empire is therefore not about bellicose braggadocio. It is a combination of bipartisan patriotism within states and committed dedication across social movements so as to achieve fairness for the meek. This revolutionary Pan-Africanist of yore is grounded in the logic of combat but doesn't advocate for its action. He thereby advocates for a more long term and lasting non-violent approaches based on being tactful.

What is an apparent lesson is that African diplomats, Kenyan ones in particular, need to write more books on the continents external relations in the world. These should be based on current issues on the foundation of their experiences rather than the popular 'rags to riches', 'how did I succeed' or 'I made it' accounts they opt for. This is a book every WTO participant or journalist covering events should get their hands on before they walk into the 'green' rooms in Nairobi or after. It is available in local bookshops and you will read it in a day.

Book Title: Trade is War; Author: Professor Yash Tandon; New York and London; Publisher: O/R Books; 2015; 2015; Pages: 211pp

Credits: A version of this review appeared in the Saturday Nation 12th December 2015

Photo: Nairobi City Center, by ninara/Flickr