Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Suffering developing countries

I pause for a moment as I ponder over why Africa and the West have such a heavily skewed relationship - one side is a net taker and the other poor, manipulated and mistreated.

I will start with a comment that I heard on a comedy show on TV. This comedian (can't remember his name) was "solving the world's problems in 60 seconds". That was the name of his act. When he got to the Africa part, he asked, "Why don't you [Africans] move out of the desert?" My surprise was that the audience found it funny.

Hmmm!!, almost everyday I see ignorance of vast proportions passed on from one person/group/body to another within society. We hear very insensitive comments from our colleagues that leave us wondering what planet they live in. Yet, in their minds, there's nothing wrong/insensitive about what they say.

I recently read a report compiled by an ex-world bank official for the Commission for Africa in which the trade policies used by the West against Africa were deemed unethical, immoral, illogical, etc, etc. Yet the West continues to use the same policies in broad daylight. I guess if you're [Africa] deemed defenseless, there is no need for the west to wait for the cover of darkness.


When we examine agriculture, we soon arrive at the use of terminator seeds (more text on it). How can the West recommend these seeds to Africa when right this minute there is food crisis in Niger? This is why so many Westerners do not understand the causes of Africa's problems. All they see on TV are the symptoms, which they have no knowledge of how they come about but readily assume that Africa is inflicting problems on itself. When Africa is mentioned in the west you get one of two responses: safari stories or corruption stories. The latter is a symptom of a far bigger problem that involves the west. Offcourse, this final point is not appreciated!!!

What about medicines? Why are some key medicines more expensive in developing countries than they are in developed ones? The cost of some medicines is so high in developing countries that if Westerners themselves were subjected to the same prices, they would be in Africa's desperate medicine position. It's not rocket science, it's common sense.

I think Africa's position today is down to two broad actions by the West:
1. Exploitation (by a powerful handful)
2. Ignorance (of the masses through propaganda or lack of information all together)

Exploitation:

  • The large futures contracts on Africa’s mineral resources speak for themselves. These financial positions are large enough for some companies to "facilitate" or "engender" civil unrest within the nation that they are exploiting.
  • Agricultural produce (still mostly organic) does not benefit the farmers as much as it should. The final price of these organic, premium priced perishable goods does not confer enough benefit to the poor farmer and his family. He/she lives from hand to mouth. Yet some in the west dare to say that what Africa gets is better than nothing. I say this, in the context that you have nothing and get something then the statement is accurate. However, in the context that you are resource-wealthy and produce some of the most exotic products on earth and have nothing, the statement is foolish and inaccurate - obviously. Africa's position is the latter therefore invalidating such a comment.
  • Colonialism not only took a lot from Africa but it left a legacy that still continues. In fact, some super-wealthy Westerners in Africa (born in Africa) owe their property to their grand and great grand parents, not due to highly successful investments over time. When colonialism ended, not all "wealth" that was taken from its rightful stewards was returned. Therefore, some generations of the westerners simply inherited the "wealth" and its workers etc. This constitutes gross misallocation of Africa's limited resources. In some poor countries, inherited land (from former colonial masters to their offspring) is amongst the most fertile and very large in size. I am amazed at those who insist on maintaining that kind of "position" whilst the masses [rightful stewards] suffer. Can they not foretell the possible outcome of their greed? I heard of a story where the offspring of colonial masters were about 9% of the population but owned 80% of the land and wanted to continue owning it to hand the inheritance to their offspring. How ludicrous!!!!! Yet the West did not butt an eyelid.

Ignorance:

  • The masses/ordinary people want to get on with their lives. They have their own problems so when they give today to one charity, and tomorrow to another it gets too much. They become immune to the suffering of others, however, not all, but a large enough amount of people. However, if when being urged to give money for food aid to Africa the ordinary westerner was equally informed about the unethical terminator seed, he/she may not only give money but may also lobby against this obviously destructive use of technology, thereby eliminating a cause (seed policy), not alleviating a symptom (food crisis). Through large-scale implementation of the terminator seeds, Africa will become far more dependent on the West for food than it is now. The ordinary westerner doesn't want this and Africa definitely abhors the idea.

  • Put simply, imagine the subsistence farmer who feeds himself and his family and trades his surplus. He collects the seeds from his harvest for the next season. With terminator seeds (genetically engineered), once the crop has yielded a harvest, there will be no more food until the poor farmer buys his next batch of terminator seeds from western companies. The seeds only work for one season! The saddest thing about this is that there are Africans advocating the "benefits" of these seeds to the masses in Africa. Are they insane? I would like to know what kind of pay packet they get because what they propose is clearly crazy. Once the poor farmers can't afford the next batch of seeds, we will have the Ethiopian and Niger food crisis over and over and over again, but this time it will be all over Africa and will never stop.
  • Westerners may also wonder why there is so much civil unrest in developing countries. I would say to this, look for the correlation between civil unrest and the abundance of natural resources. In countries where natural resources abound, no amount of "noise" from humanitarian organisations about child labour can prevail. It happens nonetheless.

Conclusion: The simple truth to a complex issue concerning Africa/developing countries and the West. To solve the problem, consider the inter-generational impact on both Africa and the West of decades of exploitation and mass ignorance by the West.

Now Africa is mostly corrupt. Those in power have a keen desire to survive at all costs. They look out for themselves alone and ignore all voices of reason. I wonder where they learnt that?
They annex public resources for private consumption. I wonder where they see that?

In the meantime, whilst we wait for social justice to wake up (if ever), Africans can read a book called "Decolonising the mind". Knowledge is empowering.

The point of this book is in the principles of what it speaks about. Africa’s position needs freedom of the collective mind. It is a rich continent and shouldn’t be a basket case.

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