When westerners view the world outside of the political construct of the “West” we invariably create an image of oases of exotic plenitude amongst a desert of unending and brutal want, for which the only “solution” is to throw money blindly at the problem in the hope that such an ill thought out gesture could ever work. The urge to throw money at your problems is one that has repeatedly been proven to be rather ineffective to say the very least.
Despite the ineffectiveness of this approach, that time of year in Britain is fast approaching were a telethon, the worst invention that can be blamed on American TV networks, takes place and we are collectively urged to vomit money at the television screen for this one day of the year by comedians rather than consistently think of how our current interaction with the developing world, namely Africa, shapes this perpetual need for aid.
After witnessing these five simple life forms with faces attempt to emotionally blackmail Britain into an orgy of giving for one day of the year I decided to write this post with the expressed aim to take a long hard look at how the West’s interaction with the outside world often relies on the giving of aid rather than addressing systemic problems that perpetuate the current realities of the world and the view that stem from this. In discussing this I hope to elucidate for the reader a number of ways in which our interaction with the developing world can be improved for the betterment of all of mankind.
The first and arguably greatest of all evils that perpetuate the need to continually give aid is the rampant avoidance of taxes by both multi-national corporations (MNC’s for short) operating in the areas in question and also by many figures in the upper echelons of government. To bluntly put this point forward I would argue that actually tax avoidance is the greatest of all of our financial worries, and in saying our I include the whole broad sweep of humanity good and bad. It is one of the greatest ills of our current financial system that swathes of those with the money and know-how opt to evade tax, in doing so depriving the likely benefactors of the wise spending of those tax revenues on social and infrastructural gains. A time is increasingly likely to come where governments will realise that due to the democratising and illuminatory effect of the internet, web based movements such as Wikileaks and Anonymous as prime examples, that the secrets of the cosy relationships between governments and MNCs who move all of their revenue to offshore havens will be increasingly less secret. And in a atmosphere as charged as that of the world gripped by protest movements of the global lower and middle classes governments would be wise to heed good sense and work towards ending the current system. For every Nigerian Naira, Zambian Kwacha or Ethiopian Birr not collected in tax that will equal the same amount therefore not invested in improving roads or public transport networks that would enable people to travel far greater distances for work or schooling. Every Cambodian Riel, Turkish Lira and Mexican Peso not collected by the tax man will equate with an identical amount not being spent on improving farming technologies that will modernise the farms in question while simultaneously protecting the farmer from the ravages of climate change as sped up by industrial man. In essence, every unit of currency not collected as tax revenue but instead moved to off-shore tax havens is a unit of currency literally ripped from the hands of many of the worlds most needy people.
The need for the correct and proper enforcement of taxes in the developing world is crucial as often those countries most racked by poverty and civil strife happen to be those sitting on tops of massive reserves of natural resources that the world covet, look at Nigeria or Angola as two prime examples of African countries that are massive exporters of oil yet remain cursed by tax evasion to languish in poverty while the politicians live in luxury London apartments (see A swamp full of dollars by Michael Peel for more of the same, perhaps better written). Another final point to make regarding global ills of the evasion and avoidance of taxes is that as it stands in many countries where financial crises have struck, governments are currently rolling back support for the poorest while failing to punish those who have chosen to not pay taxes. This happens alongside the branding of many of societies poorest as shirkers for example when the reality of the situation is by enforcing tax laws at the upper end of the scale, where the greatest funds are to be collected, that governments can increasingly socially mobilise their poorest citizens upwards by investing in their education and their environments. I would ask that for those readers who are able and willing to vote to use this power to begin electing officials worldwide who understand the following arguments and want for the greater good to enforce good practice in taxation for the betterment of all.
The next greatest ill that holds the developing world in its deathly grip is corruption. closely aligned with the afore-mentioned blight of tax evasion in that often it takes corrupt officials at varying levels to help MNCs and government figures move their money off shore. Alongside the corruption in the form of enabling the tax evasion that already takes place there is also the more traditional internal problems of corruption within the developing world of people willing to take bribes. While on the surface it may seem that the odd bribe paid to keep traffic wardens in the developing world happy is pretty harmless, but we need to think of small scale bribery like this as just the start of a much more widespread problem where a lot more people are likely take much larger bribes to influence much greater outcomes. For a clear indication of just how thoroughly embraced by corruption the continent of Africa is see the following links here and here. Pictured and listed are the results of the 2012 corruption perceptions index which details the level of perceived corruption in nations across the world, only one African country makes it into the top thirty, whereas nearly half of the bottom thirty, exactly half if we include South Sudan where it is likely to appear when data is collected next year, is made up of African countries which is a damning indictment of the current state of things in many countries there. This is all very interesting you’re thinking but what does it have to do with how I can help Africa in ways that change from the current paradigm of aid giving. It is true that for the most part this a problem solely for Africa itself to deal with as it increasingly tries to dissuade bribe giving, however, that being said westerners can increase their part in helping rid the developing world of corruption by increasing their engagement with businesses that have active anti-corruption stances and decreasing their involvement or patronage from businesses which make no effort to combat corruption in their dealings.
Another contributing factor to Poverty in much of the developing world is a specifically European issue,namely the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP for short) as enacted by the European union. The CAP is a policy where throughout its history the EU has subsidized farming in Europe so as to maintain artificially low prices for products of farming while simultaneously imposing tariffs on foreign imports making trade unnecessarily expensive for African countries. CAP is a an example of economic protectionism where the government of the European Union through subsidy has deterred external competition while at a massive cost to the member states of the EU supported a fairly unproductive and uncompetitive industry, for more on CAP see here. Another problem with CAP alongside its making European markets inaccessible to African farmers who in all reality have created more competitive businesses than their failing European counterparts, is that it buys up excess farming produce and has frequently dumped this in African markets, driving down prices further for native African farmers. This policy is quite unique in that is almost as unpopular in the EU, the beneficiaries of this interventionism as it is in Africa, they who suffer as a result of it. When we view Africa, as I mentioned earlier we often view the continent as an uproductive wasteland as a result of poor climate and bad workmanship. The reality is as Mark Tran points out here that Africa given the correct support to start off such a revolution could feed the world easily. Feed the world you ask ? perhaps you are confused as contemporary views of Africa see it as a small and insignificant chunk of land, that is entirely made up of refugee and aid camps or savannah where only wildlife lives. Perhaps this view will change when the next image demonstrates that actually Africa is a huge continent and the notion that such a vast area of land could be entirely unproductive is as absolutely farcical as then notion that One Direction are a good band to front anything other than abortion drives.
If nothing else I hope the above image convinces you that the CAP as a policy of the EU makes no sense when it is such a costly measure to support such an insignificant amount of businesses in Europe when the alternative is to open the door to far more competitively priced African products which would fuel much greater growth across the continent than aid ever could. Add to that the fact that Africa has more than enough land to encompass such an increase in the scale of farming with plenty left over for all sorts of new industries to crop up as a result of increased growth caused by the booming export market.
Alongside the CAP another issue that already hampers the growth of African farming industries and the natural growth of population and will increasingly do so in years to come is the environmental crisis as exacerbated by man. Few things are more divisive than the topic of global warming but I believe that facts show that, whatever you believe to be the root causes of increasingly extreme weather patterns all over the world to be, the developing world as a matter of fact will suffer more damage than the developed world. To add further salt to an already somewhat raw wound, the increasing damage the developing world will suffer will ultimately have been largely caused by other hands in the already developed world. The problems in agriculture in the developing world caused by rising temperatures, desertification and decreased rainfall will ultimately make aid more necessary over time if we don’t work collaboratively to combat climate change as best as possible and also to improve farming practice so as to better nullify the damage of an increasingly warm and dry climate. A change in the type of crops used extensively in the western market is one example of changes that we in the west could start which would help the developing world in a more constructive way than aid. An example of the type of change in crop I suggest is the decrease in use of rice, being as the cultivation techniques used to farm rice is water intensive and also plays a large part in the production of excess Methane, and an increase in the use of crops such as Cassava which is already widespread in Africa and is somewhat impervious to drought. Examples such as the one I’ve cited above are perhaps an example of a way forward in the current struggle over climate change that is less likely to break down into childish bickering and point scoring.
The final key way in which we can positively enable growth in Africa and the rest of the developing world is through focussing on interacting with companies who and governments who put the weight of action behind sustainable and responsible initiatives in things like mining and farming. This obviously would need to happen alongside a critical reassessment of our business dealings with African nations with a view to establishing which corporations are violating their responsibilities in the name of profit with no thought given to safety in any shape or form. That businesses have carried on the exploitative and extractive relationship that the west had towards Africa during its colonial heyday will come as no surprise to any student of history. However with an increase in the power of the weapons of warfare conflicts fuelled by resources in some way have become increasingly common and more violent with every passing year. Take for example the cases of Liberia and Sierra Leone in the late 80s early 90s where smouldering resentments were somewhat exasperated and financed by the illicit trade in diamonds that ultimately were destined for western markets. Despite the brutal nature of these conflicts, a more vicious conflict has taken place since in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with once again minerals playing a key involvement in the funding of militias and armies. This conflict has been the most bloody since World War 2 claiming untold millions in a nation the size of Western Europe that also happens to hold some of the worlds largest reserves of minerals such as Coltan, Wolframite and Cassiterite which are all essential ingredients in modern technology. Reading this on a tablet ? It probably contains something mined dubiously from the Congo, going to text your friend to complain about my preachy nature in this post ? That likely contains a cluster of minerals from the Congo too. The problem itself is not necessarily that the minerals are from the Congo in the first place as they could conceivably be mined in a far more responsible manner, the problem is that major technology firms buy these ingredients from mines that A) likely employ child slave labour and B) the proceeds from which will fund war crimes such as ethnic cleansing and the use of rape as a weapon of war. In combating this the way forward is the boycott of companies or for those who again are willing to vote to push their democratic representatives to support conflict mineral laws.
I hope in all of the above that somewhere, something I’ve said has made you reassess your views on the culture of aid giving and given you pause for thought relating to one of the many suggested alternative means of bringing the developing world, in particular Africa forward from its current state. I do not argue in its totality against aid, in times of disaster aid is something that is most certainly needed as cash injections fund neccessary relief efforts. What I do argue against is the blind handing out of aid that takes as a given a racist assumption that Africans can never truly escape poverty so we must simply make poverty as comfortable as is humanely possible. All of the solutions that I have suggested above, take alongside other more complex measures which for the sake of space I have not discussed would see the world as a more equal place that surely would brighten the hearts of all humanity ? Or consider the alternative, that the concept of Africa as a thriving continent able to hold its own is what the governments and corporations of the “West”have been scared of all along.