Will enclaved development be the scenario of the future?
In 1981, the movie “Escape from New York” depicted a future island of Manhattan as a maximum-security prison, surrounded by a high containment wall. Inside the wall there is chaos and a daily struggle for survival. Outside the wall, there is security, peace and abundance of social services.
This movie comes to mind when thinking about enclaved development, except today it is wealthy companies and individuals walling themselves off from the surrounding poverty and insecurity.
In the extractive industries, it is not unusual to see companies supported by political elite-pacts confining themselves to compounds protected by private security firms, literally walled off from the local communities. Food, supplies, and even labour are flown from outside, while the extracted resources are exported to other countries for processing. Where this happens, operations are hardly connected with the local environment. And when labour is imported, these developments also fail to promote local employment opportunities.
Inequality and enclaved development is also increasingly visible in capitals and large cities. Some capitals in resource rich countries have become extremely expensive cities, despite widespread poverty. Many city dwellers, living in self-constructed settlements that lack basic infrastructure and services, do not benefit from the country’s massive oil, gas, diamond or precious stones’ exports.
Nearby expensive hotels and compounds showcase glaring inequality. Luxury products and imported food often sell at incredibly high prices, which most of the local population – often living on less than US$2 a day - cannot afford. Many foreign workers live in well-guarded suburban communities paid for by large multinational corporations. Some company compounds and luxury apartments are equipped with private helipads, so that flying in and out can happen without having to encounter poor neighborhoods on the way to work or the airport.
Will the world be able to address the challenges of inequality or will these pictures of enclaved development become more common?
The Sustainable Development Goals indeed aim to provide an answer to that question. Among the 17 goals, there is one (Goal 10) aiming to reduce inequality within and between countries, with targets focusing on increased income for the poorest and redistribution of wealth through fiscal policies and social protection schemes. Goal 10 cannot be seen in isolation from the other goals - in particular Goal 16 on building peaceful, just and inclusive societies.
It is hard to build an inclusive society when poor people in the slums, lacking food, water and electricity, witness daily the abundance of wealth nearby. It is also hard to have peaceful and inclusive societies when corruption is rampant and illicit financial flows channel much needed development funds abroad instead of directing them to those in need within the country.
Countries can avoid enclaved development by providing a stable and secure environment that invites businesses to integrate with the local communities, providing employment and other income-generating activities. This will enable local businesses to thrive. Governments and the private sector must also be transparent in licensing and contracting. The business community, from its side, can contribute a lot through social accountability initiatives and integrity in meeting their fiscal obligations.
“Escape from New York” predicted the future of Manhattan in 1997. It did not happen. The SDGs aim for a better future by 2030. The global community can make that happen, but it will require solidarity, collaboration and a better distribution of wealth, instead of greed and indifference.