Democracy: At what price?

chibamboOn the day that I saw the above message on Facebook, I also saw this, titled “Malawi, Africa Countries Snub ‘Un-African’ Proposals At UN CSW Meeting” which has the following two paragraphs:

“There were issues of comprehensive sexuality education, and abortion among others and it was proposed that a child should be taught about issues surrounding sexual life from the age 0 – 4, and that the girl child should not be restrained from having sexual intercourse as long as she is old enough,” explained Makungwa.

She added, “So as Africans, we stood our grounds because we found such proposals very un-African and as for other proposals such as that of homosexuality, we clearly told the meeting that as a country, the matter was referred to the public for debate.”

While conservative leaning churches would probably be pleased with these kinds of headlines, to me a more pressing issue is troubling.

Who gets to decide who makes the law? Or rather, who gets to decide who dictates public policy? Is it the people of an African country, its government or the donors and financial backers who must map public policy?

As a black person living in Britain, I’m always appalled when the rights of minorities are denied by popular sentiment, or by religious / perceived pseudo-religious beliefs of the majority. But in this case, I find it extremely difficult to reconcile the fact that when less than 50 years ago the law in the UK forbade homosexuality, you now have what amounts to ‘carrot demands’ by what are probably western organisations pushing young African democracies to legislate or support similar laws to those which in the West took hundreds of years  (and murderous mistakes) to properly form. Irrespective of African culture and other considerations.

It’s a bit hypocritical isn’t it? In my terribly (un)imaginative mind, it sounds a bit like a man mouthing off in the London Underground voice ( ‘Mind the Gap’) : It took us 500 years to overturn these laws, it must stake you less than 40…”  Tasteless.

Further, on the list of what should be priorities (hunger, disease, poverty, education, rights of women, etc) of African leaders, where does LGBT rights feature? Is it really sensible to ask a presidential candidate to support gay rights when half his country’s population is starving, when the country has poor public health facilities, hospitals without medicines, when crime is compratively high (than in most western countries), when illiteracy levels are high, when there are poor educational prospects in the country, an unacceptably high number of women continue to die in childbirth, when unemployment is high, and when corruption is rife in both the public and private sector?

Wouldn’t it be wiser to allow the political leaders of African countries some leeway for what will probably be a slow but organic natural transition? As opposed to applying forced catalysts whose motives are not entirely clear.

Con Artists: Deception, deception and more deception

The typical con artist of the 21st Century is a puppet organisation whose employees have important sounding job titles, wear suits, have well manicured fingernails and sport pricey haircuts. None of that amateurish I have a gun give me your money or I’ll blow out your brains twaddle.

This morning, I found myself reading a hilarious article that suggested that the World Bank (of all the neoliberal outfits out there) was fronting some initiative designed to help Africa in preventing pricing irregularities of its minerals, in the process saving the continent billions of dollars?

Yeah, essentially that’s what it says…which is… how do I put it….dishonest, or at least not entirely truthful, if one is to be mild-mannered.

Yes, it will be good for people to know the actual price of their country’s minerals, but who exactly are we talking about here. Aren’t the prices of commodities evident and freely available to the public on international markets? Aren’t the people working in Natural resource departments of government agencies somewhat a bit more savvy (and knowledgeable) than the local man on the street? All you need is a computer (or even a mobile phone) and an internet connection. Don’t tell me government ministries of natural resources across Africa don’t have access to an internet connection to enable them to check the price of Platinum or Rare Earth Minerals on the international market…or are too incompetent to do so?

Which is why I think this initiative is merely a distraction. Having a map of your country’s natural resources and the cost thereof doesn’t immediately translate into physical or tangible gains. It doesn’t mean that you, the native, controls, owns or has the real benefit of those natural resources. Or does it?

At the most this is a PR stunt designed to mislead, a nefarious ploy to distract the people’s attention from the unfair, unethical and illegal state of play, where African resources are owned and exploited by foreign corporations who have no interest whatsoever in improving the lives of African people. It’s purpose in my view is simply to provide an illusion that something is being done, when the fact remains that nothing of any real substance is being done. It’s as hollow as announcing to the world that the UN is considering a resolution against Switzerland and other Tax Havens, to stop them receiving illicit funds from third world / developing countries, and then doing absolutely nothing else other than that annoucement….no action, zero! Meaningless.

So, you can mineral map the whole world if you like, but the locals in third world countries will still remain deeply afflicted by poverty, often going without, or with very little; there will continue to be poor or non-existent healthcare facilities, hunger and disease will continue to run amok, corruption will remain high, wars will tear the landscape and displace millions … as in the backdrop, an alliance of tycoons and wealthy billionaires multiply their wealth – their catalyst, a resource that should be owned by Africans, and yet isn’t.

How many African companies have contracts to mine minerals in North America? How many have contracts for oil extraction in the North Sea, or off the coast of Australia? What percentage of Canadians own Multimillion dollar companies registered in Canada? Similarly, what Percentage of Nigerian/ South Africans / Malawians own multimillion dollar companies in their own countries? Those are the questions the World bank or indeed any serious commentator should be asking, because addressing the disproportionate imbalances or anomalies in those questions is what has a far higher potential to reverse capital flight from Africa and third world countries. That’s what has a higher chance of improving the plight of the people of Africa. Not mineral mapping…or some silly PR stunt.

It can never be right, whether you have a mineral map or not, no amount of sugar-coating or window dressing will ever put that unfair state of play right. The truth is there has been a clearly indisputable economic unfair advantage gained by western countries (helped by wars, bad policies and stupid African leaders), and something serious must be done to reverse and rebalance the playing field. Half-hearted deceptive stunts fronted by agents of the neoliberal right will only harm the little sincere good that others are currently working on.

If you really want to know what this is all about, the ending of the article itself says it all:

BDs2

 

Africa is poor and 5 other myths: Simon Moss

tedx

Simon Moss debunks six myths about poverty and asks a series of new questions to reshape the way we think about relief. He talks about poverty and how Africa is often branded as being poor; he explores the issues of aid, bad governance, education, overpopulation, disease, volunteering, charity overheads and food waste. Simon Moss has been to Malawi.

As citizens of a country that is considered to be one of the poorest in Africa, and that receives 40% of its national budget from aid money, I think every Malawian ought to watch this video and begin to think differently about how we see some of the issues explored, their causes and effects.