3 Mar 2010


Interesting article. Something to think about the next time someone in a developed country asks, or insists you give money to 'help' or 'save' an African country. The money is very likely to 'help' some people much more than others and most of us shut our eyes and ears to it. We hand over our money and go back into our own busy worlds. Not for a moment, do the vast majority of people stop to think, where exactly has our money gone to and was it really well spent?
Children at an indepenent school for deaf children in Addis Ababa, which the Ethiopian government wants to shut down. Why? Simply because it is not run by the government.

I have spent the best part of a month slogging my way around Ethiopia. In some ways it is an amazing and eye-opening country. In others it is depressing for the very large numbers of people who do little more than subsist. Hard questions need to be asked about the way the country has been governed and why it remains so wretchedly and miserably poor.

Ethiopia's population is quietly exploding. It has virtually quintupled in lass than a century. Half of the people cannot read or write. They live very primitively off the land. Schools and health services are woefully under-provided in large swathes of the country. Is that really because we in the west (poverty always seems to be about 'us' doesn't it?) have not poured in enough money? I don't think so.

Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian prime minister, seems strangely beyond criticism. But I wonder if it was wise for him to decide to spend large amounts of his country's (already slim) budget on fighting two major wars with Eritrea and interfering within Somalia instead of on schools and health services for his own people. Wars which America and Britain happily supported by the way.

'What is my president doing for me?'

There is a very intersting debate to be had (not that we are likely to have it in this country any time soon) about the consequences of shovelling large amounts of money into very poor (and very corrupt) countries. Can we be honest enough to ask ourselves, is it really a good thing?
I can assure you that the consequences are very far from favourable. In fact - and this is hard to believe but it is true - they have even been detrimental and regressive to a country like Ethiopia's development. Aid dependency and the corruption it engenders has severely hindered the lives of ordinary Ethiopians.
There is a very important and relevant discussion to be had about these aid and development issues, which I am sure I will return to another time.
But bare in mind one thing: most of the people you hear talking (or should I say lecturing) about these issues in the mainstream media have their own agendas to promote. They wear their development hats or NGO badges. It always pays to look at who pays their salary.
They are unable to be truly objective and rational in analysing the effectiveness of aid and development policy. They live a very nice and relatively comfortable life in the countries they are so earnest about saving.
For me, the biggest and most relevant challenge in reducing poverty is not about how much money we 'should' unburden ourselves with. It is reducing corruption and improving bad governance. African poverty should not be about our guilt complexes and our 'must-do-something-anything' culture. It should be about the many and deep failures of African governments to do effective things for their own people. It should be about making them more transparent and accountable to the people they govern.

Forget the coloured wristbands, the emotionally blackmailing slogans and the day trip celebrity guilt tears. We do not have a hope of making poverty history unless we are searchingly honest about understanding the real causes of it. From inside the places where it exists and is perpetuated.
So what is Saint Bob Geldof's response? 'Just keep giving money!'
Just keep giving money. Keep pouring it in. Throw enough of it at Africa and all poverty will magically dissapear and we can all ease our guilty wealthy consciences. How simple. How naive. How wonderful for Africa's corrupt leaders. How disrespectful to the people of Africa.
Give me the valuable currency of real life experiences over the cheap currency of celebrity moralising every time.
When will we learn? It's not about the money, the impressive pledges, the warm slogans or the good intentions. It must be about understanding the realities on the ground.

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