Archive for July, 2007
I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about international development. A couple of things have crystallized my thought specifically; one being Bono’s celebrity activism at the recent G8 summit; the other being a recent article in the newest issue of Foreign Policy.
I was asked about my earlier anti-Bono post: “isn’t it a good thing that he is raising awareness about Africa and taking western leaders to task for their unfulfilled promises of aid?” My answer is unequivocally, no. I want to be clear, I do not bash Bono simply to bash Bono, but to argue that he and others like him are part of the problem.
Firstly, it is hard to see how the “awareness” he is raising is a positive. Bono’s message only feeds the image that most people already have of Africa the poor, starving, violent, corrupt, destitute, basket case. An image that hinders real progress. In the words of blogger Ethan Zuckerman:
Africa’s not an issue. It’s not a cause or a problem. It’s a continent – a complicated, confusing, beautiful continent, with wealth and poverty, peace and strife, success and tragedy. When Africa becomes a cause, we tend to see only one side of the continent – a helpless, dependent, starving side that “needs our help”.
Second, Bono is not simply talking about problems, he is pushing solutions. His solution–large infusions of foreign aid–did not come from a representative body of African political leaders, or some other democratic process. It is the ideology of the high church of development, which happens to be the subject of the article by William Easterly in Foreign Policy that I mentioned above.
Easterly’s Article The Ideology of Development echoed a lot of sentiments I already held, but got me thinking a lot about the significance of Bono beyond just the issue of celebrity cause-crusading. In it, Easterly describes the new ideology that has taken hold since the demise of communism and facism, what he calls “developmentalism.”
Like all ideologies, Development promises a comprehensive final answer to all of society’s problems, from poverty and illiteracy to violence and despotic rulers. It shares the common ideological characteristic of suggesting there is only one correct answer, and it tolerates little dissent. It deduces this unique answer for everyone from a general theory that purports to apply to everyone, everywhere. There’s no need to involve local actors who reap its costs and benefits. Development even has its own intelligentsia, made up of experts at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and United Nations
This ideology takes it for granted that every nation can rapidly catch up to the prosperity levels of modern western nations, solving all of their social problems with a combination of large sums of aid and modern technology. For fifty years, however, these approaches have failed. The few nations that were able to achieve rapid growth and modernization were the ones that most completely disregarded the policies of western lenders, donors and Developmentalists. All the aid, debt forgiveness, technology, anti-corruption measures and “structural adjustments” have not raised the per capita GDP in “developing” countries, and have been accompanied by decreases in some. A new round of massive infusions of western aid into these countries is unlikely to solve anything, and is likely to only exacerbate existing social, political and economic problems. Even debt forgiveness may be unhelpful, as many African governments are simply turning to China for new, no-strings-attached loans to replace the ones that have been forgiven.
Sam Rich, in a recent issue of Wilson Quarterly gives a critical analysis of Jeffery Sachs’ Millennium Villages Project, which injects massive amounts of aid into small villages such as Sauri, Kenya. While he does note some successes of the project, he notes that few of the core problems have been solved, and that permanent change will be stymied by the dependency created by large infusions of foreign aid.
Sauri has achieved more than such projects could ever reasonably hope to, but it’s not yet a model village. Instead, Sauri remains Africa in microcosm. All the fundamental problems that exist in Africa still exist in Sauri; in some cases, these problems are magnified.
The ideology being spread by celebrity figures such Bono and Jeffrey Sachs may have altruistic motivations, but is really just another method of western nations running their former colonies. Socialist ideology sought to empower people but ended up leading to massive oppression; a developmentalist ideology may also have unintended but tragic outcomes.
People must be free to find and build their own solutions. If Bono succeeds, he will have heckled western governments into a program that will further entrap millions of people in poverty by denying their freedom to find their own way.
- Please Bono, Stop Heckling and Just Listen
- Africa and the New Cult of Celebrity
- G8: who’s pulling Africa’s purse strings?
- Judging a magazine by its cover
- Africa: through the lens of Western bourgeois mythology
- Africa at the G8 summit: déjà vu?
- The aid evasion: raising the “bottom billion”
- Investing in Africa
- Aid workers lament rise of ‘development pornography’