I think the Make Poverty History ads are nice, besides this white hand making black children disappear. MPH is part of Live 8, which recently staged concerts to send a message to the G8. I am glad that there’s attention to the subject, but I think Live 8’s demands will hurt the Third World. Their manifesto calls for greater government power and unconditional aid. That is, more money to the most corrupt governments on earth. It would make Africa, literally, a Welfare State. To quote the Kenyan Peter Kanans, "Even if they cancel the debt, even if they give our governments aid money, ordinary Africans will not benefit," he said. "That money will only make the corrupt people richer and Africans international beggars for decades to come." There is, I believe, a better solution (later post).
Make Poverty History Manifesto
1. Trade Justice: Fight for rules that ensure governments, particularly in poor countries, can choose the best solutions to end poverty and protect the environment. These will not always be free trade policies.
We need trade justice not free trade. This means the EU single-handedly putting an end to its damaging agricultural export subsidies now; it means ensuring poor countries can feed their people by protecting their own farmers and staple crops; it means ensuring governments can effectively regulate water companies by keeping water out of world trade rules; and it means ensuring trade rules do not undermine core labour standards. We need to stop the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) forcing poor countries to open their markets to trade with rich countries, which has proved so disastrous over the past 20 years; the EU must drop its demand that former European colonies open their markets and give more rights to big companies; we need to regulate companies – making them accountable for their social and environmental impact both here and abroad; and we must ensure that countries are able to regulate foreign investment in a way that best suits their own needs.
Trade justice for what? Corruption? The focus here is on nation states and their governments. Not on people’s right to participate in a free market, but the rights of their government to ‘protect’ and ‘regulate’ trade. They are asking for African governments to be freed of international accountability so that they can control trade as they see fit. Unfortunately, many Third World governments are deeply corrupt. The Ministers that regulate trade are the same Businessmen whose family and friends get contracts. This is basically a blank check for government corruption.
2. Drop The Debt: The unpayable debts of the world’s poorest countries should be cancelled in full, by fair and transparent means.
Many countries still have to spend more on debt repayments than on meeting the needs of their people… Rich countries and the institutions they control must act now to cancel all the unpayable debts of the poorest countries. They should not do this by depriving poor countries of new aid, but by digging into their pockets and providing new money… International institutions like the IMF and World Bank must stop asking poor countries to jump through hoops in order to qualify for debt relief. Poor countries should no longer have to privatise basic services or liberalise economies as a condition for getting the debt relief they so desperately need.
I’ll quote directly from Wikipedia for a response, but I’d just like to point out that the emphasis is again on government, not people. Those ‘hoops’ are things like accountability, transparency, and delivery of goods and services – all of which African governments lack. "Opponents of debt relief argue that it is a blank cheque to governments, most of which are plagued by corruption, and which immediately go out and contract further debts, partly in the belief that these debts will also be forgiven in some future date. They use the money to enhance the wealth and spending ability of the rich, many of whom will spend or invest this money in the rich countries, thus not even creating a trickle down effect. The money is also used to increase defence budgets, which are then used to promote war. They argue that the money would be far better spent in specific aid projects which actually help the poor. They further argue that it would be unfair to third-world countries that managed their credit successfully, or don’t go into debt in the first place, that is, it actively encourages third world governments to overspend in order to receive debt relief in the future."
3. More and better aid: Donors must now deliver at least $50 billion more in aid and set a binding timetable for spending 0.7% of national income on aid.
Aid should support poor countries and communities’ own plans and paths out of poverty. Aid should therefore no longer be conditional on recipients promising economic change like privatising or deregulating their services, cutting health and education spending, or opening up their markets: these are unfair practices that have never been proven to reduce poverty. And aid needs to be made predictable, so that poor countries can plan effectively and take control of their own budgets in the fight against poverty.
So, Live 8 is calling for African governments to be accountable to no-one. They get a check every year, no questions asked. They don’t have to make any structural reforms and there is no incentive for self-sufficiency. Why when you’re taxing the G8 at 0.7%? Furthermore, the money’s going to the government, so a small elite is going to get loaded. You can even parcel aid of for votes to stay in power, sounds perfect. The state can control the economy, write off their debts, and sit back and collect welfare. This is a recipe for the African Welfare State.
Good Government – Bad Assumption
One notable thing about Live 8 and Make Poverty History is that the sites tell me absolutely nothing about Africa. I was trying to find out what African countries they want to offer debt relief to, but I can’t find anything. The Live 8 concerts, too, included only a handful of African performers – as Damon from the Gorillaz points out. There’s also no input from Africans on what they need, or African candidates to actually implement these policies. It’s also funny that white wrist bands are the token for MPH. Anyways, I’ll just pick some countries and list their place on the Transparency International corruption scale (1-145). One is good and 145 is horrible.
- Sierra Lionne – 114
- South Africa – 44
- Ivory Coast – 133
- Zimbabwe – 114
- Nigeria – 144
- Botswana – 33
- Sudan – 122
- DR Congo – 133
- Tanzania – 90
To quote, "Anyone who has spent any real amount of time in Africa knows that corruption is the reality. It’s a disservice to ordinary Africans to not be honest about that," said Rose Mucheke, 35, a Kenyan health care worker in Nairobi. While her salary is barely enough to meet her monthly bills, she said bitterly, "the aid money will go into the pockets of corrupt officials to buy their fully loaded Mercedes-Benzes."(Washington Post)
These are parasitic governments. Ministers and officials take bribes, practice cronyism, give contracts as favors, give jobs to family and dependents, etc. Nigeria, for example squandered over £220 billion since 1960. Any money you give to these governments is at best wasted, and at worst hurts people. Live 8 still insists on giving to governments with records of military control, genocide, oppression and corruption.
In Tanzania, debt relief enabled the government to abolish primary school fees, leading to a whopping 66 per cent increase in attendance. As a result, 1.6 million more children now attend school. Debt relief helped kick-start Mozambique’s impressive recovery from civil war and terrible floods and enabled its government to vaccinate 500,000 additional children.
Those accomplishments are good, but are you going to get $50 billion of value out of African Governments? Do you want to enable corruption? Throwing money at this problem will only prop up governments that aren’t working. Live 8 rightly recognizes that there is a problem in Africa, but it seems to think that government is the solution. If you think the G8 is non-democratic and monolithic, wait till you see the Little 14. Yes, they may be black, but they’re still oppressive. Whether the guy behind you is black or white, you’re still getting fucked in the ass.
Fish, Not Fishing Rods
Live 8 et al seem to think that money equals development. The assumption is that forgiving debt and giving unconditional grants will magically build economies. This is similar to the Iraq war mentality, where America thought it could pull democracy out of a hat. Countries that have attained some prosperity (like India and China) did it through internal reforms, not through foriegn aid. Indians and Chinese people raised those countries up, and it was more complicated than cashing a check. At the very least, Live 8 could include a few token Africans in their consulation process, rather than dumping money wholesale. At the end of the day, no matter how much money you give, Africans have to spend it. Africa needs its own leaders and it needs to raise itself up. To quote from the Post again, "Ousmane Sembene, the prominent Senegalese-born filmmaker, shocked a crowd of earnest young people in London during a talk in early June when he condemned the G-8 and the Live 8 concerts as "fake," and added: "African heads of state who buy into that idea of aid are all liars. The only way for us to come out of poverty is to work hard."
I won’t toss out words like neocolonialist or paternalistic lightly, but Make Poverty History and Live 8 are certainly disconnected. They have made a bold prescription without really examining the patient – besides the Mandela photo-ops. Just from the Sri Lankan tsunami example I know that giving the government money is not a solution. In fact, their 100 meter law makes a bigger problem. In countries with parasitic governments, it’s unclear whether feeding the parasite will help. Live 8 seems to think that prosperity is a gift that they can buy for Africans, rather than something that Africans have to build, nurture, and own. There are ways to encourage prosperity – free markets, democracy, education – but it is not a problem you can throw money at. What Live 8 is calling for is an African Welfare State, governed by the corrupt. The debate is nice, but the manifesto is repulsive.