From what I can see most of the people who supporting the campaign to “Make poverty history” have little or no knowledge of the history of poverty. If they had such knowledge they would know that poverty could not very easily be made history, poverty has been with us almost as long as there have been people. For most of that time most people were unaware of its existence, they all lacked enough to eat and had a short life expectancy. What is poverty? Is there minimum standards of living, a level which if you fall below you are said to be living in poverty. Clearly the datum from which the poverty line is measured is different from country to country. Those said to be below the poverty line in the UK compared to the dollar a day labourer are very far from the margins. Consider the history of poverty in the UK.
We are told that today there are several million people living below the poverty line in the UK. My father born in 1900 would not have accepted that anybody in the UK today was living poverty. His father born in the late 1870´s would be amazed at the prosperity of even the poorest person in the UK today.
My father’s family was poor; my grand father blacklisted for his trade union activities with six children to rear, my grand mother taking washing to help the family survive. At the age of 13 my father was working 12 hours a day in an iron foundry at 16 he volunteered for the army. In 1926 he took part in the general strike, remember it to support the miners who were suffering real poverty. In the late 1920´s he worked for a railway company when trading conditions hardened he was sack for having one flat foot.
After that he spent 5 years without a job, when the war ended in 1945 apart from the cloths he stood his total assets were 7/6d. or about 40 pence. To see his children have the wherewithal to buy there own homes was to him incredible.
I tell you all this not because I want you knows the history of my family, rather I want you to understand the history of poverty. When my grandfather died in1936 he thought poverty of his youth was history. When my father died in 1979 he thought poverty was history. Yet today we are still being told people are living below the poverty line in the UK. What is today considered poverty in the UK would by my Grandfather standards would have been considered luxury. The upshot of this is making poverty history is impossible because the datum line that constitutes poverty rises by the day.
Let us now consider poverty in Africa, using Zimbabwe as an example. In 1911 it had a black population of 900,000 and a white population of 1500. I think that sometime in 1923 it was given self-governing status. In the 1960´s it declared itself independent from the UK and governed itself. After a prolong war between the whites and the blacks Robert Mugabe became its Prime Minister and later its president. Did the standard of living increase between 1911 and the regime of Dr. Mugabe, it certainly did. Was it as high as in northern Europe no it was? Was it comparable with other African states, yes it was? It was considerable higher than most of its neighbours and by a massive margin when compared to some African counties.
What of the period under the control of Dr Mugabe, The standard of living has fallen year by year. It is true that for Dr. Mugabe´s friends and some of his supporters have seen their standards have risen to unbelievable levels. When compared to the GNP of Zimbabwe and the GNP of the UK they are living better than any European politicians, even those gravy train riders in the EU.
Zimbabwe has over the years since independence received Millions $ in aid and loans. Have the ordinary people benefited by such aid. Well I’m hard pushed to find any evidence to that effect. Does anybody know where all the money has gone; my guess is that it went to swell some Swiss bank accounts. If we applied the European Saving Directive to some of these African leaders accounts we would know, would we not. After all a good many people who contribute to this aid have to abide by this directive.
Is distributing money and food really the answer. If somebody were to be given food every day, clothes for each season and roof over their head, why would they want to work? All the evidence supports such an argument, don’t give people food don’t give them money. Show them how to grow food, show them how to make money. Is it any different for countries, than it is for people? Zimbabwe was for many years a net exporter of food it had the foreign currency reserves to prove it. Zimbabwe is poor today because of incompetent and corrupt politicians sometimes wedded to a failed ideology. It has nothing to do with insufficient aid, interest payments on loans. For to many years Africa has used moral black mail to elicit aid from it former colonial rulers. The UK shamefaced bows to this obvious ploy. I do not think the UK owes anything more money or aid to its former colonies in Africa on the basis that as a colonial power it exploited Africa. When the governmental powers where handed back to Zimbabwe they took over countries much better off than they had been before 1911. Health, education, administration and infrastructure, non-existent before 1911. It is time to remember that Zimbabwe was a colony for hardly more that fifty years. It has been independent for 30 years in that time it has reverted to tribalism with the victimisation and brutality that goes with it.
In south East Asia there are many examples of counties who pretend to be command economies, but empirical evidence would suggest they have embraced a more dynamic solution. Here the Major example is China, there are others Vietnam for example, who can not believe that North Korea will be far behind. Some former British colonies in South East Asia have made it in economics to terms to equal the West and in some cases overtaken it. Most of this without any significant amounts of aid.
Don’t tell me about trade practices that prevent the African counties trading with western countries. I am sure that some trade practices hurt Africa, just as some trade practises hurt the UK. Contributions by the UK to the common agricultural policy hurt many farmers in the UK. Farmers in the UK who once had viable agricultural holding are going out of business, while French farmers are kept in business by large dollops of aid, sorry subsidies. I am not condemning he French government for this. If this action is needed to protect the French way of life and to maintain social cohesion so be it. What is a matter with some African countries is to coin a sixties idiom “they can’t get it together”. The history of aid to Africa has on the whole been completely unsuccessful.
I am old enough to remember when the UK was a manufacturing society. Look at the manufacturing industrial base of the UK today. Walk round your town try to find a factory producing clothes, shoes or electrical goods. There aren’t any, some gone to former eastern block states other gone to South East Asia. Not to Africa I admit, but if you are a businessman you make your location decisions where you think the business can be run successfully. You need a stable government, corrupt free politicians, and a stable currency. They need to be an established business climate that if free from undue government interference, those local officials who can only be persuaded by a bribe need to be removed. They need a population that can adapt regular working hours. Most of all they need honest officials who can police the rules to ensure laws and regulations are obeyed.
The practices some of African counties who have the in the past and are currently receive assistance from the west has meant it has been less than effective and will be little help in the future. The presidents of these countries and their cronies will siphoned most the money and sell the food was given on the understanding it would distributed freely to those who needed it. These politicians need to be removed from office by force if necessary.
If the countries of Africa were businesses looking for venture capital non-but the unwary would tread. If they ere business hoping to become an established by a government grant, their directors would not stand even the most cursory scrutiny
The strategy needs to change and change radically, give assistance to successful African countries, but not governments. Give assistance to successful businesses, make them trade with their more impoverish neighbours again not with government but with businesses. Give the people a stake in their country. Let the countries providing such assistance must have a control of the distribution of such aid for a limited period to ensure that proper use of such assistance is maintained. I know the leaders of these states would object to such an arrangement, not because they think it won’t work in principle, merely that possibility to skim something of the top is very limited.
The western and South East Asian economies remain prosperous by trading with each other. Africa could stimulate trade in this way and nobody staves. Nobody need stave in Africa; Africa has the agricultural capacity to feed itself. What it lacks is leaders of vision, its has leaders whose motivation is self-interest.
One action that could be taken to show the more avaricious leaders of some African countries that times are changing, would be to located the misappropriate aid and return it to the governments that donated it. Perhaps a team from the European Commission could be drafted in; after all they seem to know more than most when it comes to corruption.
The other day Mr Jonathon D on ITV news suggested that Africa was not ready for democracy and he has the evidence on his side. He went to say that it the people of the UK fought for 100´s of years to get the democratic society that we have here, absolutely correct. While the people in the UK were fighting for democracy and existing in appalling conditions. The Kings and their cronies were living exceeding well. This exactly parallels what is happening in many African counties, the only exception being that many of them masquerade as democracies. So we have find aid for 100´s years while Africa reinvents the wheel of democracy. I do hope JD is wrong. If by a remote chance he right, the West may be to poor to contribute. In any case those in the West living below the poverty line might with justification have room to complain, the backlash will surely come.
Why do I feel a sense of the hypocritical when I here those pop singers going on about the exploited in Africa. Do you not feel that they got their riches by exploiting young people of the West? When all of them have divested themselves of their wealth will I be convinced of their sincerity. They could make the cheques payable to an African charity of their choice.