Monday, 25 August 2008

from poverty to power

Anyone with an ounce of humanity cannot fail to be disturbed by the extent and depth of world poverty. The question is, what can ordinary people do about it? A number of approaches are possible ....

We can all donate to a disaster relief fund, sponsor a child or help buy a well for a needy village or literacy classes for an uneducated adult. And it all helps. We may not change the world, but we change someone's world. But most agree this is not addressing the root causes.

We can go one step further, and as well as giving aid, pay a fair wage for the products we get from third world countries. This is the logic behind organisations like Fair Trade, which enable us to buy products where those who produce it are paid a decent price for their labours.

We can agitate for change, by asking our governments to increase their foreign aid to meet the Millenium Development Goals, reduce third world debt and Make Poverty History. We can campaign for fairer trade rules. All this will make a big difference if it happens.

All of these approaches rely on those of us in the rich west being willing to make changes ourselves, or support changes by our governments. But now comes a book which challenges us to look even deeper into the issue.

From Poverty to Power by Oxfam's Duncan Green argues that the biggest barrier to eliminating poverty are non-democratic, and often corrupt governments, which don't allow the poor an opportunity to change their lives. The poor need effective governments working in the interests of all their citizens. I guess it's obvious really, but it needed to be researched and said.

A couple of interesting examples.

  • On this video, we learn that 50 years ago, South Korea was poorer than Sudan; now the average citizen is 12 times better off. It asks why, and the inference is that in South Korea people were given a fair opportunity, while in Sudan their opportunity has been ruined by war, genocide and inequality.
  • Botswana is a poor landlocked country that imports 80% of its food. It has one major money earner, diamonds. Over the 40 years since independence, its per capita GDP has increased a hundredfold. More importantly, a government "for the people" has ensured that the wealth is spent equitably. Many other examples of citizens actively involved in a democracy leading to reducing poverty are quoted by Duncan.

This leaves us with the obvious question: how (if at all) can we help?

I'm not sure, but it seems that we can try to support aid programs in countries which fulfill Duncan's criteria. And perhaps we need to urge our governments to strongly support nations which are moving in the right direction. For too long, the US and the west generally have supported regimes that support the west's perceived strategic goals, even if they are oppressive regimes, and opposed some benign governments if they do not align with the US.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic thoughts here! Why not have a look at the Micah Challenge 'Offering of Letters' campaign as an example of one way we can "agitate for change". See


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