Prosperity, Then Peace

Tracy O (ASA)money money money

I recently wrote about how globalization could make the world a much safer place. The logic is essentially this: countries that have significant business interactions are much less likely to go to war. A China that relies on exports to the West probably won’t start a war with anyone, and a West that relies on imports from China is less likely to go to war with them. If you extend this logic to a world in which each country relies on imports and exports to and from everywhere else, a completely “globalized” world seems destined for peace.

In explaining that theory, I drew on the (easy) example of Europe. The logic is straightforward: trade liberalization under the auspices of the European Union has made Europe more interconnected. That interconnections has made war all but impossible. After publishing, a very interesting and reasonable counter-argument came to mind: the prosperity of Europe, not it’s liberalization, has kept it at peace.

Consider, for example, that almost all the violence in Europe to have occurred in the last few decades happened in the relatively poor Balkans. Consider too, that Africa–a continent almost synonymous with war–is easily the poorest inhabited continent on the planet.

Now I’m not that interested in listing hundreds of examples. I’m well aware that for every example I can give there are probably an equal number of  counterexamples.

The mechanism by which prosperity would yield peace is more intuitive than rational. The basic idea would be that the wealthier a person is, the more social capital–education, acquaintances, leisure time–they have, and the more resistant they are to putting a nice life on hold to risk their own neck in war. This makes sense, but without some actual data remains “just a theory.”

However, it follows that if this worked, generally speaking, to turn a populous against war a responsive government would almost necessarily be less likely to wage war. Even a government deaf to the desires of its citizens would likely struggle to conscript people to join an undesired military action.

Certainly the theory has flaws. Rich countries do start wars. There are poor countries that are peaceful. But I can’t and wouldn’t contend that prosperity alone makes a country or population less likely to go to war. I would say, however, that it’s a factor that shouldn’t be ignored if one desires to end all wars.

american society, politics, world

‘Stop Trying to “Save” Africa’

On Sunday, the Washington Post ran this column by American-Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala. In it, he argues that Africa cannot be “saved” by Western countries, and that such rhetoric can be both offensive and demeaning. This piece is very similar in content to this post, but I felt this was more concise and thorough, and thus merited new attention for the idea.

I feel that the important realization is not that Mr. Iweala or anyone else is asking that the West leave Africa alone and neglect it, they’re merely asking that the rhetoric that outside agents can rescue Africa be dropped. Perhaps that the West’s rampant overbearing paternalism could be toned back and replaced with a spirit of cooperation and partnership.

Now, for the best part of the column:

Such campaigns [as Keep a Child Alive’s (link plays music) I am African], however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly focus on the continent’s corrupt leaders, warlords, “tribal” conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured by abuse and genital mutilation. These descriptions run under headlines like “Can Bono Save Africa?” or “Will Brangelina Save Africa?” The relationship between the West and Africa is no longer based on openly racist beliefs, but such articles are reminiscent of reports from the heyday of European colonialism, when missionaries were sent to Africa to introduce us to education, Jesus Christ and “civilization.”

There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one’s cultural superiority. My mood is dampened every time I attend a benefit whose host runs through a litany of African disasters before presenting a (usually) wealthy, white person, who often proceeds to list the things he or she has done for the poor, starving Africans. Every time a well-meaning college student speaks of villagers dancing because they were so grateful for her help, I cringe. Every time a Hollywood director shoots a film about Africa that features a Western protagonist, I shake my head — because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West’s fantasy of itself. And not only do such depictions tend to ignore the West’s prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems.

Why do the media frequently refer to African countries as having been “granted independence from their colonial masters,” as opposed to having fought and shed blood for their freedom? Why do Angelina Jolie and Bono receive overwhelming attention for their work in Africa while Nwankwo Kanu or Dikembe Mutombo, Africans both, are hardly ever mentioned? How is it that a former mid-level U.S. diplomat receives more attention for his cowboy antics in Sudan than do the numerous African Union countries that have sent food and troops and spent countless hours trying to negotiate a settlement among all parties in that crisis?

Two years ago I worked in a camp for internally displaced people in Nigeria, survivors of an uprising that killed about 1,000 people and displaced 200,000. True to form, the Western media reported on the violence but not on the humanitarian work the state and local governments — without much international help — did for the survivors. Social workers spent their time and in many cases their own salaries to care for their compatriots. These are the people saving Africa, and others like them across the continent get no credit for their work.

Last month the Group of Eight industrialized nations and a host of celebrities met in Germany to discuss, among other things, how to save Africa. Before the next such summit, I hope people will realize Africa doesn’t want to be saved. Africa wants the world to acknowledge that through fair partnerships with other members of the global community, we ourselves are capable of unprecedented growth.

big ideas, politics, world

Africa, Development, and Bono

man fishingSome headlines scream so loud something so shocking that you can’t ignore them. “Africans to Bono: ‘For God’s Sake Please Stop‘” from The American is just such a headline.

I’ll admit that at first I thought ‘this must be a joke.’ But upon closer examination, it’s a reasonable argument made rather convincingly by it’s purveyors and the article’s author (and blogger), Jennifer Brea.

The essential argument is not that Africans universally undervalue the role of outside aid in jump-starting development. Rather, they argue that what they want is development, not innumerable checks for solving immediate problems.

Aid is not useless, but its not the path toward a rich and sustainable future. If Africa’s only form of foreign “investment” comes from money being dumped into the continent to feed hungry children, prevent malaria, and build modest infrastructure, little true and self-driven development can occur. There is a need to investment in local companies, to develop industries that create jobs and products that can be sold both locally and around the world.

Aid in its current form can disempower both governments and their citizens, making governance easy by allowing it to do nothing, or even allowing it to work against its citizens’ best interest. As Ms. Brea says, the current modality of aid “seems to deny Africans a role as agents of their own transformation. We [outsiders] can save Darfur. We can save Africans from disease. We can even save Africans from themselves. Africa can be saved if we just try hard enough.”
Not only are certain problems endemic to the way in which aid systems currently function, but much of the means to itself are disempowering.

Aid is often pleaded for, rarely by Africans themselves, by portraying the continent as a helpless and wild continent unable to do anything to enrich or help itself. As you can no doubt guess, even if these images of the distended bellies of hungry children covered is flies is based on reality, it undercuts the appearance of progress on the continent.

It is also fundamentally disempowering to a continent and people that are trying hard to find a new and novel way toward their own future.

For closing words, Ms. Brea:

Aid can alleviate immediate misery and that is why we love it. Charity is a profoundly human response to all those images that pull on our heartstrings. But all evidence points to the maddening conclusion that, in the long run, aid not only has no positive effect on economic growth, it may even undermine it.

The only way Africa will develop and create wealth is if it can attract foreign capital and trade its goods on the world market like every other economically successful country does.

But investors are jittery. And considering what we think we know about Africa, who would blame them?

Branding Africa as barbaric and hopeless or glamorous and chic may sell magazines and get us to open our purse strings once in awhile. But neither myth is true or useful.

Here’s a radical idea: if we really want to help, why not ask Africans, not their governments, how they perceive the challenges before them, the dreams they have for the future, and the resources they think they need to realize them?

Instead, we let a well-intentioned Irish rock star, a Jewish-American economist, and their Hollywood cohort become the voice and face of Africa.

And in the process, the story of the other Africa, the Africa that is dynamic, creative, and wants to work as a partner and the leader of its own future, is being drowned out by the clarion cry of the anti-poverty glitteratiand our own appetites for gripping, salacious headlines of war, poverty, and grief.