Saturday, October 24, 2009

(Butt) Out of Africa

Sometimes we feel guilty even thinking such thoughts: People in Africa are starving from famine. But giving them food and money alone is not going to help them.

Why is it that knowing that famines will occur they do nothing about it?

Why is it that governance and infrastructure remain so bad in so many countries on that continent that the people cannot help themselves?

Why are women still treated as bearers of children and objects for sex?

Why don't they start educating their people and women especially in order that they could reduce their population issues?

How is it that for countries which are supposed to be so poor they cannot feed themselves every time there is drought, leading to famine, leading to displacement, leading to atrocities, etc, etc. that the governments (or some sort of ruling elite) have money to go to war? That their wives and children can afford the best clothes and shop in the most expensive stores in London, Paris, etc?

I have written about women, education, etc elsewhere (click on links for an example). I was surprised to find this article in the Times yesterday:

Do starving Africans a favour. Don’t feed them

It encapsulates what I had been thinking for some time but did not have the courage to say in print.

Throwing food and money at Africa will never solve the long-standing problems they have. The UK welfare system demonstrates well how feeding, clothing and housing the feckless alone won't make them aspire to do any better.

Where Africa is concerned, where loyalties are so marked by tribal boundaries, the solutionS are not simple. But just giving them lots and lots of money -- which get stolen by those in power -- does not help.

Charities and NGOs are well-meaning, but they are in danger too of engendering a culture of dependency. Why work so hard to harvest those few crops when foreign aid would feed us? What would these NGO and charity workers do when there are no known crises?

Charities and NGOs should have only one over-arching aim: to work themselves out of a job.

That means the agenda is not to jump on a plane and go to a site of crisis or give TV interviews to encourage people to give.

It means finding out the long and tedious way how an individual, a family, a village, a community can be helped. Giving micro-loans (not hand-outs) to train, learn a skill, start a business, husband the land, that would have more long-term positive impact than giving money.

The wonderful thing is there ARE people already doing this. I have trading links with two:

Bishopston Trading has done much in KV Kuppam, training men and women to retain and learn skills, helping them make a viable living. They have also started a school which will make a huge difference in years to come.

Tabitha have worked in Cambodia by turning their traditional skills into profit-making endeavours and returning these profits to the people so that many more could benefit from the training, micro-loans, house-building and well-digging projects.

No, we must not completely butt out of Africa, but let us be wise as to how these people can be served. History has shown that the likes of BandAid is nothing more than that: a sticky plaster.

We need people who are willing to do the hard grind. Create and design projects that really make a difference.

We need trade agreements that would support these countries, not penalize them.

We need corruption to be dealt with, and the sickness removed from its core.

And if we should look around us, we probably already know someone who knows someone who is actually at the coalface, doing this work day in and day out outside the focus of TV networks. Write out a cheque to support their work.

14/03/2010: Half of all food sent to Somalia is stolen, says UN report

Even Band Aid is not above criticism

Bob Geldof: My rage at this World Service calumny

Suzanne Franks: You can't take the politics out of humanitarian aid

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