What do ‘the poor’ think about our efforts to develop them?

“They come in the name of helping” is a film by Peter Brock. Peter travels to Sierra Leone which, according to UN statistics, is among the poorest of the poor. In an effort to understand what people there feel about ‘development’ by western NGO’s, he decides to ask some locals. These are their stories.

I am far from an expert in these matters but can’t help but wonder: who does ‘development’ end up helping? Has the development ethic not created a large and growing industry around it? Are thousands of ‘foreign experts’ not reaping substantial monetary compensations for their efforts to solve the poor person’s problems ? While absolute poverty might be going down, is not inequality rising?

Maybe, we are looking at development in the wrong way. How about, instead of going to “Africa” to spend thousands of dollars fixing wells, building roads, providing health care, building schools, etc, why don’t we go to our own governments and make one simple demand: stop meddling with the poor! After all, are we not, with quite some enthusiasm and self-congratulation, through the IMF, the WTO and the World Bank, imposing structural adjustment programs on the nations we label poor? Are these programs not based on the terms that we dictate, often entirely unfavorable to the receivers of our largess? Do the poor nations not suffer from substantial debts, which are maintained or increased by the west’s policies, and which prevent them from pulling themselves out of their condition? Why can we not ask our government, instead of giving $20 to World Vision or some similar minded NGO, to erase the debt of the poor nation and set it equal to us in terms of trade? Why can we not go to our government and ask it to stop supporting corrupt regimes? Why can we not ask our government to tell internationally operating corporations to think critically about their supply chain and what impacts buying minerals from an already unstable region might have for the countries ability to solve its own problem? If we were to do this, I feel, we might make a substantially larger and more sustainable impact. Maybe it is not the poor nation that needs to be developed – maybe it is our own societies impoverished understanding of the role that we are and ought to be playing in the world as a whole?

The message of the short clip, is therefore very relevant – development through the lens of mutual respect and dignity for the human being.

Here are some links that might stimulate a few thoughts

1) Think again – Africa’s Crisis

2) Causes of Poverty

3) Poverty Understood

4) Framing poverty as a complex issue

5) Barefoot economics – understanding poverty

6) 100 Lectures all about Africa

7) George Ayittey – Cheetahs vs. Hippos

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