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July 03, 2005

How good it feels to feel

"Everyone is, suddenly, globally, politicised" froths an embarassing article about Live8 by Euan Ferguson in todays Observer. Puleese.The atmosphere this morning reminds me of Princess Diana's funeral. The emotions released yesterday are heartfelt - but narcissistic. It feels good to feel. Watching a rock musician in a London park is not an optimal position from which to empathise with someone in Africa - let alone to understand the issues. I don't claim any expertise either, but I've been reading around. George Monbiot wrote last week, of the the debt-relief package for the world's poorest countries likely to be unveiled this week: "Anyone with a grasp of development politics who had read and understood the ministers' statement could see that the conditions it contains - enforced liberalization and privatization - are as onerous as the debts it relieves". The G8 meeting will announce this package, tell the Bonos and Geldofs of this world that "we listened" - and Africa will be screwed.

Posted by John Thackara at July 3, 2005 11:32 PM


hmmm - I don't really know if it is that simple -that "enforced liberalization and privatization - are as onerous as the debts it relieves". Sounds very simplistic I would say. There is no easy answer to relieve immense poverty, and stating that enforced liberalization and privatization is in and of itself bad is stating your own political opinion as fact. What is a fact is that the industrialized world has already sent help for many years - remember the first live aid - without it having much help. I'm not sure wether forced liberalization is the way to go, but I do think that some degree of demands for reform to go along with the help would be the logical step. Other than that I agree with you (Mr. Thackara) about your thoughts on live8.

Posted by: Thyge at July 4, 2005 06:58 PM

You are right to be suspicious of simplistic slogans. I happen to believe "make poverty history" is one such slogan. Nobody wants children to die of avoidable diseases. But when debt relief is made conditional on the privatization of public services, and on the opening up of local markets to international competition - well, I get suspicious. It's not that peope like Gordon Brown are bad guys. But their world view is coloured by the assumption that economic growth, understood as perpetual increases in production and profits, is the answer to poverty. For me, that's old paradigm thinking. The G8 model of growth destroys aspects of well-being - social quality, environmental sustainability - that many 'poor' people have not yet lost.

Posted by: John Thackara at July 5, 2005 09:52 AM

I think you are right - that there are many aspects to well-being, and that the various social costs can be a lot higher than what is to be gained from a perpetual increase in production and profit.
Regarding Geldoff/Live aid I also think that a lot of what is presented as solutions somehow belong to an old paradigm, where the soothing the conscience of the industrialized world is apparently more important than doing something that actually works, and trying to assess what effects the aid is actually having. I have just read a very eye-opening article in a respected danish news-media. - it stated that Médecins Sans Frontières actually believed that the first live aid/ band aid had actually cost as many lives as it had saved by keeping a corrupt and damaging government in place - a government who was partly responsible for the hunger catastrophe, by forcing communist reforms upon the farming industri in Ethiopia.
I would like to recommend an article that should give a new perspective on the politics of aid - its from the German Der Spiegel, but in English http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/spiegel/0,1518,363663,00.html

Posted by: thyge at July 10, 2005 04:40 PM

Thanks Thyge, the interview in Der Spiegel is indeed interesting. I had not heard this critique of the damage done to African markets and craft ecologies by donated products from the north. For example, Shikmati says that iIn 1997, 137,000 workers were employed in Nigeria's textile industry. By 2003, the figure had dropped to 57,000. "The results are the same in all other areas where overwhelming helpfulness and fragile African markets collide".The paper has another piece crirical of the aid industry here: http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/spiegel/0,1518,363604,00.html

Posted by: John Thackara at July 11, 2005 08:02 AM

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