Eliminating world poverty: making governance work for the poor (25)
Afro-nets friends --
On Jul 29, 2006, at 2:17 AM, Jeff Buderer wrote, “it is simply not in
humanity's interests to maintain such a dysfunctional pattern of existence and
the extremes we now see in the use of resources are not historical norms.’’
That is true, but unfortunately there is no global agent to act in humanity's
interests. All actors on the global stage work in their own interest. The UN is
not really a global actor; it is little more than a meeting hall in which the
nations of the world pursue their own interests. Because of the huge
disparities in their power, global politics is highly undemocratic.
I agree with Jeff’s view that the key strategy ought to be "empowerment of
local economic actors at the grassroots."
Jeff also said that African agriculture is too dependent on the western
agribusiness model. I agree with that, but I would add that when we look to see
how things might be done differently, we should not limit our gaze to
agriculture. I think we tend to give too much attention to food production in
Africa. Why continue to focus on agriculture where it has not worked? At some
point, instead of just trying harder, it is time to try something else. Recent
economic breakthroughs in India and China have been largely based on doing
things other than agriculture, such as manufacturing and outsourcing services.
If you find a way to make money, food will show up.
I would be more supportive of proposals for new agriculture systems where they
were themselves indigenous rather than imports.
The difficulty with technological approaches is that they tend to work in favor
of the powerful rather than the weak. If a small farmer finds a technological
way to increase production ten percent, his quality of life will not go up ten
percent. Instead his landlord, suppliers, etc., will suck much of the gain away.
I certainly agree with Jeff’s view that, “If the West is going to claim to help
Africa with its situation, we need to be serious about it and not actually do
more harm than good, perpetuating our dysfunctional role in exacerbating
Africa's problem that began with colonialism.” However, the emphasis here may
be misplaced. Instead of looking to the west to re-vision its role, perhaps
more should be done to get the governments of African nations to make decisions
that serve the interests of their own people. As I argue elsewhere. it is
mainly up to Africans themselves to say no to western offers that do not serve
Africa's interests. See
With regard to the idea of the West coming in to help Africa, we need to move
away from development work that says we teach and you learn, and instead
embrace real partnership, based on learning together and planning together
about how to deal with the problems in which we are embedded together. There is
a certain humility required in mutual apacity building. We should recall the
comment attributed to an aboriginal Australian woman, Lila Watson, upon
greeting a visitor, probably dressed in a suit: "If you have come to help me,
you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is
bound up with mine, then let us work together."
I say this with great self-consciousness, as I head for South Africa in just a
Jeff said, “something is wrong with a system that exports coffee, fruits and
other tropical products desired by temperate affluent regions of the world,
while the people in these regions working the fields and playing other
supportive roles in sustaining this infrastructure do not themselves have
enough food to eat. As I see it, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with
exporting as a means of making money. The problems here arise not from the fact
of exporting but from the fact that locals have so little control over these
operations, and they have allowed themselves to get into situations in which
they have few alternatives. Thus they are not free to say no to these
exploitative employers. At some point they must stand up and say no, and find
other ways to live.
Also, we must acknowledge that it is not only foreigners who benefit from these
exploitative operations. There are local exploiters, of all hues, who will be
much difficult to evict.
Jeff went on to propose that in a future world order, “the prices of desirable
commodities produced in emerging markets would be based on a global tax as part
of the WTO regime . . .” It appears that he is proposing a globally managed
economy, one that would be managed in the interests of the poor, not the rich.
I don't see how this would be politically feasible. I think it would be more
fruitful to explore what could be done constructively in and with particular
Professor George Kent
Department of Political Science
University of Hawai'i
Honolulu, Hawai'i 96822
Phone: +1 808 396-9422
Cell: +1 808 389-9422
Fax: +1 808 956-6877
Skype ID: geokent