Archive for the ‘International Development’ Category

I have nothing but fond memories of living in Canada: a country of stunningly beautiful landscapes; happy, unassuming, and industrious inhabitants; and a firm adherence to coffee breaks at 16:20. Likewise, my encounters with Canadians around the world have always been positive, just always remember (as with the Scottish, Irish and Welsh) to ask if they are Canadian before assuming their accent means they are American (I still often find it hard to tell the difference!)It is however American (USA) travellers who pay the Canadians the highest of compliments by sewing Canadian flags to their backpacks so as to avoid having insults / rotten fruit / grenades (please select appropriate projectile) thrown at them by locals anxious to expel the gringo invader (see photo below) from their country.

American Tourists....

However, attention Canadians, Americans and all those looking to throw shit at gringos, this is all due to change unless all cool Canadians take drastic action. Canada`s imagine as “the US` “cool northern neighbour” is under threat by a conservative political takeover and a growing tendency to disregard human rights and destroy the environment that is just not… cool.

The environment

After Saudi Arabia, Canada boasts the largest oil reserves in the world which would be bad enough if a big part of this was not locked up in the oil sands of Alberta. Extracting said oil consumes 5 times more energy than conventional methods and leaves vast swaths of pristine wilderness looking more like Tolkein`s Land of Mordor. It was probably such environmental inconveniences that prompted Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper to ridicule the Kyoto accord as “a money-sucking socialist scheme” and vow to battle to defeat it.

Consequently, Canadian delegations have consistently blocked the international community in coming to an agreement in order to tackle climate change. Nationally, Canadian environmental spending has been savagely cut, and Canadian climate scientists are finding themselves gagged from talking to the press while the oil and gas lobby are given free rein to “muddy the waters” through the spread of misinformation.

Human rights

Instead of bringing “economic development and jobs” the Albertan oil sands projects have brought severe problems for local indigenous communities. Traditional hunting lands have been destroyed, rivers poisoned and cases of cancer have increased alarmingly. Furthermore, the Canadian government do not limit human rights abuses to their own backyard. From Guatemala to the Congo, Canadian mining companies have the worst human rights record in the world (involved in four times as many incidents as their Australian and British counterparts) which includes forced displacement, murder and even accusations of supporting genocide.

The Harper administration are not just turning a blind eye to the shameful conduct of Canadian multinationals abroad, they are actively aiding and abetting!

Oh, Canada!

Now, come on Canada, I can understand the need for many other countries to abuse human rights and destroy the environment. How else are the middle eastern oil states supposed the pay for their giant air-conditioned shopping malls with ski slopes in the middle of the desert? African countries are full of yummy resources that must be exported, the Chinese have to keep their workers in their sweatshops somehow, and the US must continue exporting fabulous free market democracy to an often ungrateful world.

Canadians, however, live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world with a half decent democratic system, workers rights, and no need to maintain any kind of international hegemony. Canada always ranks high in the UN`s human development index and consistently comes top or close in various other quality of life indexes.

Yes, tar sands and international mining may be profitable and pesky human rights and the environment do get in the way of this. But do you really believe more money will make you happier? The choice  to live by ones values and morals is a luxury in a world in which scarcity is the norm. Those lucky enough to live in stability and prosperity have the responsibility to look beyond their own material well-being and build their societies on values, morals and principles.

Since their electoral victory in 2006, the Canadian Conservatives have consistently lied, cheated, stolen, broken the law, defrauded, defamed, and disregarded democracy in order to grab and hold onto power. This shameful charade can no longer be ignored nor tolerated. So Canadians, I urge you to put justice and liberty ahead of pure profit. If not, then investing in little American flags to sew onto your bags when travelling abroad will be necessary (and profitable!).

"simply remove maple leaf and replace with stars and stripes"

Contact the author: robbie_packer@hotmail.com


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On a Thursday morning of last month, at 10:30am, Ana Fabricia Cordoba, a land and victims activist from the department of Urabá, North Colombia, was murdered on a bus in Medellín. Ana is the tenth activist this year to be murdered, undoubtedly due to her work demanding the recognition of the human rights of victims of violence and those expelled from their lands.

Being Colombia’s second city with almost 4 million inhabitants, Medellín seems an unlikely scene for a story of rural collectivization. However, it is here in the sprawling slums, where small farmers, dispossessed of their lands, must eke out a living. Hundreds of thousands have come here from the regions of Urabá and Chocó in forced displacements that coincidently begun to increase in scale following the expansion of the African palm oil industry in these regions. They know that only collective action will get them back their lands, yet from poverty, repression and murder this is an uphill struggle; a social movement to which straight forward technical prescriptions cannot, unfortunately, be applied.

According to the Colombian Institute for Rural Development, throughout Colombia, “Small farmers’ land has been invaded and those who remain have been subjected to secret military strategies of intimidation”. Upon displacement they suffer discrimination and further repression, family and community ties are ruptured and life persists in a constant state of insecurity. Any attempt to organize and work together in order to improve, protect or reclaim their land is brutally repressed by both state and non-state actors. Today, numbering almost 5 million,Colombia’s forcibly displaced population equals that ofSudan making these two countries the worst cases of forced displacement in the world.

Despite positive rhetoric, Colombian state discourse and media tar the forcibly displaced with the brush of conflict, implicitly linking them to guerilla or paramilitary groups. The state actively and unfairly criminalizes land activists and what they can’t do within the confines of the law, they leave to paramilitary groups with whom they have proven links. Since the 80s, small farmers’ lands throughoutColombiahave slowly been taken by large landholders with strong links to paramilitary groups. Under the banner of “progress”, the land oligarchy point out high export profits in order to justify their position. In reality, what is actually promoted is a regressive, backward social order in which 1.4% of land owners own 65% of the land.

The fact is that, as well as challenging the economic monopoly on natural resources enjoyed by multinationals, small farmers working successfully together directly threaten the mechanized-monoculture agricultural model which favors unequal ownership patterns and regressive income distribution. Many people find it hard to believe, but small farming is actually more efficient than large-scale agriculture. It goes against our logic but, putting aside sustainability and environmental concerns, the majority of research (including that of the World Bank) clearly indicates an inverse relationship between farm size and efficiency. Furthermore, small farming generates more employment and distributes wealth more evenly, leading to further benefits associated with social equality.

ACA (Campesino Action of Antioquia) is a farmers’ collective that represents peasants who settled in the region of Angelopolis. Previously considered barren by commercial agriculture, by working together, ACA turned this land into one of the most productive areas in the region. However, this wealth drew the attention of paramilitaries who orchestrated a campaign of intimidation and threats that lead to the community’s eventual forced displacement. Confined to the slums of Medellín, ACA are constantly subject to threats and intimidation due to their work. Rather than focusing on capacity building and technological development, ACA must now focus on collectivizing politically in order to reclaim their stolen land.

Collective action, from forming cooperatives to participating in the democratic process and state-run development programs, is a natural human behavior which we have employed, to varying degrees, for millennia in order to survive and prosper. The optimal extent and manner depend upon a complex set of cultural, social, historical and geographic factors best understood by those to whom they are specific.

From grain silos to fertilizer, small farmers know themselves what is best for them, their families and communities. It is high time that well meaning experts stop attempting to hand down prescriptions to ‘cure’ underdevelopment and, instead, look to the crux of the problem and start supporting small farmers throughout the world in taking the individual and collective action necessary to help themselves. This doesn’t mean, of course, that there is no place for advice and consultation; there will always be something we can learn from one another. However, the deluge of prescriptions that has flowed from “The West to the rest” for the past 60 years has failed to deliver a sustainable solution to rural poverty throughout the developing world.

The majority of these prescriptions from development experts effectively place the responsibility for small farmers’ failure to collectivize on the heads of small farmers. However, in light of the violence and repression inColombia, can we really ‘blame’ small farmers for not being able to collectivize and organize effectively? The fact is that recommendations to small farmers on how they should farm their land completely ignore the brutal repression they experience and, furthermore, fall neatly into a long tradition of blaming the poor for the problems of the world.

Rather than studying agricultural practices in far away lands, it would be far more productive to pose a few questions regarding our own societies; where do the weapons come from? Where to the drugs and palm oil from the forcibly acquired lands go? Simple, Follow the money.

As long as we persist in turning a blind eye to the fact that we are a part of the problem there will be nothing we can share with small farmers that will help deliver a sustainable solution to rural poverty. We must use the rights we are lucky enough to enjoy to demand that our governments defend the human rights of small farmers and do everything they can to pressure foreign governments and businesses to do the same. This way, small farmers will be free to link up in whatever way and to whatever degree suits them best in order to improve their livelihoods and confront the challenges of global warming and a rising world population.

In Medellín they demand one thing; respect for their human rights, something worth more than all the advice, models and programs we can muster. Collectivization is, rather than technical, a social process. Being its seedbed, freedom must be cultivated to ensure a natural, bottom-up process best suited to improving livelihoods.

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Charity work is essential to modern day society, in pretty much every part of the world. Helping people in miserable situations when they are struggling to help themselves is often a life saver, and charitable giving undeniably supports millions of people in the world.

However, despite the dominant view of charity, which sees it as almost automatically ‘good’ because of its nature, looking at it from another angle we can see that perhaps the existence of charity actually stifles people’s ability to bring about the changes necessary to live in a just world.

Lets take an example of charities working in Africa like Comic Relief. While of course it is better that a child has some medicine or a mosquito net instead of not having them and it is better that a village has clean water/a school/ a clinic instead of not having these things, by simply providing them for these communities can this really be described as a ‘good’ thing? After all, those people will now continue to live in poverty but with new mosquito nets to sleep under, or a clinic nearby.

Isn’t it strange that rather than trying to focus on the root cause of what is causing poverty, charities seem intent on merely analysing and treating the symptoms?

As Zizek points out in the video below, surely the proper focus should be on reconstructing society so that poverty and its associated range of miseries cannot exist, rather than covering up our consciences and the symptoms with measures which do not seek to eradicate poverty?

It is clear that the mainstream focus of international development is not to see the end of poverty, the World Bank’s loans are packaged as ‘Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers’ (PRSPs). They are only designed to reduce, not eradicate poverty.

So why is this the case? I would like to put forward the argument that charity in its current existence is merely an accomplice to the system of exploitation that leaves people in the impoverished situations in which they find themselves. In fact it is a legitimisation of that system of exploitation.

Neoliberalism relies on large scale poverty in order to profit from it, think of the cheap labour used to manufacture swathes of consumer goods across the world. Think of the workers on plantations and down mines, working for next to nothing to produce the natural resources from which these goods are made and from which the rich multi-national companies profit.

In order to break free from poverty, people need to break free from the system which results in the rich’s domination over the poor, on national and global levels and this can’t be achieved with the idea of charity as we know it. We need to change a system which forces people to rely on the ‘market’ for their livelihood, rather than patch up the misery that system causes with simple handouts.

A beautiful animation to accompany a Slavoj Zizek talk about the topic of charity as referred to above.

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Why? you ask, surely more divisions with this debate can only hold us back more. Isn’t this issue above politics; anarchist, capitalist, communist or fascist, surely we can all agree that rising sea levels, desertification and forced displacement of billions is a bad thing? So, let’s just all get on together with the job at hand – preventing climate change.

I’m sorry but it’s not this simple, everything is political, as is climate change, and here’s why.

We have to look at why our current efforts to halt the process are failing. The simple fact of the matter is that for the whole planet to consume at Western rates we would need between three and five planets just to sustain ourselves and we only have one. Our consumption is at the heart of the matter, it’s something we are unwilling to change and it is the standard for the rest of the world. Forget human rights, welfare, equality, etc. Consumption is the Western ideology, it was publicly stated by President Eisenhower’s chief adviser that to continually increase production of consumer goods was the ultimate purpose of the American economy. Consumer industry journals explicitly and openly discuss ideas such as forced obsolescence and identity branding, check out the exemplary quote below by economist and retail analyst Victor Lebow,

‘Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today is expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.

These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption.’ (Price Competition in 1955, Journal of Retailing Spring 1955)

What about recycling and renewable energies, can’t we just change our consumption habits rather than cut consumption full stop? Well obviously recycling, buying local and using energy efficient light bulbs is a good thing, but it won’t be enough. The fact is that no matter how much we recycle as long as our measure of progress persists to be a growing GDP it will never be enough. The same applies to renewable energies, exploiting 100% of the renewable sources in the UK will not sufficiently satisfy our current energy needs.  So why are we obsessed with a constantly growing GDP? Is it just because we love to work so much that the more we are working the happier we must be? No, work equals power, the more we do of it, the higher our capacity to smash our enemies and more able we are to maintain the status quo. This would surely explain the massive disparity that exists between our pro human rights / equality rhetoric and the harsh reality throughout the developing world and even within our own countries.

Bringing it back to climate change, we can put forward as many facts and theories as we like, but the fact is that facts and theories don’t inspire people. What is more, persuading people with nothing more than scientific evidence is self destructive as there will always be a fractional possibility, however small that may be, that you are wrong; in fact, the very integrity of a scientific argument is based on its own potential to be disproved. The only real absolutes are values and principals and ultimately they are what people demand change on the back of.

So, this being a political post, maybe you’re expecting some kind of call to arms, something to fight for. Well, you’ll get one, but it won’t be to recycle more, stop eating meat, shut down coal-fired power stations or airports, it won’t be to support one political party or the other. Well, not existing politics anyway as 95% of contemporary political discourse is focused on the best way to get more ‘things’. I just ask you to get out, take a risk and live life. Love people, nature, and beauty, even God, Buddha or Allah (swt) if you’re that way inclined. In the next revolution we won’t be fighting over things but over life itself. I can only expect you to fight for something you love; the rest is up to you!

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By Luci Storelli-Castro

After the black stain left in our common human heritage by the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonial legacy, economic redress is certainly something the world owes Africa. However, our debt to Africa does not end there. Adding to the list of ways Africa has been shortchanged throughout history, is the overlooking of its contribution to science and technology.

Like most people, prior to this semester I was not aware of the significant gains made in the modern scientific tradition as a result of African scientific thought. Even more foreign a concept was the idea that there was such a thing as African technological innovation.

In part, the on-the-ground situation in most African countries helps explain why this false perception of the continent’s scientific and technological incapacity continues to be perpetrated.

I can attest from my time in Ghana, for example, that science is not a strong suite within the educational curriculum. Where schools and research institutions in the developed world benefit from state-of-the-art equipment facilitating scientific rigor, that is not the case in Ghana where such institutions are strapped for resources. Moreover, one hardly hears of any new scientific discovery originating from Africa.

In terms of technology, Ghana does not fare much better. What are common technological fixtures in developed countries are largely absent or found to a much lesser degree within Ghana.

Another factor diminishing the role Africa has played in furthering scientific and technological advancements is the belief held by some that there exists a duality between African traditional thought and scientific-technological methods of inquiry.

The misconception of African traditional views as strictly anthropomorphic and superstitious has drawn much welcomed criticism over the years, however. Central in this effort has been G.P. Hagan, whose work on Akan aphorisms has exposed evidence of principles reminiscent of Newtonian mechanics.

An area in which African knowledge has been especially useful, yet seriously unrecognized, includes the realm of biomedical and pharmaceutical research. Indigenous African herb specialists have, for example, discovered an array of anti-carcinogenic and anti-viral therapies.

Unfortunately, however, patent laws protecting these indigenous efforts against multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies are lacking.

This is the case in the controversy surrounding Michelamine, a compound discovered by native herbalists in the rainforest of Cameroon. Of course, the ante goes up considering Michelamine is believed to be a promising marker in the route to curing AIDS.

In writing about the Michelamine case, Dr. Helen Lauer of the University of Ghana writes, “if the promised drug ever comes to the world market, it will be subjected to the protections of the WTO, which is promoting an extension of patent laws to monopolise drug production world-wide. Then the drug will still cost too much to save the life of the child whose herbalist father first pointed out the plant’s value in the forest patch near his home to the inquiring pharmaceutical researchers on exploration from the US.”

Technological innovation is also not alien within Africa. To provide just one example, Ghanaians have made a name for their cocoa by employing a bean drying procedure that is unique worldwide. According to Dr. O.A. Akoto, an economist, this procedure involves maintaining a 13 percent moisture content which, in turn, adds 15 percent more value to Ghanaian cocoa in the global market.

These are only some of many examples of how Africa has contributed to the modern scientific cannon and technological progress. Yet, one finds that the continent is not given due credit for its contributions. It goes without saying, Africa is long overdue in claiming entitlement to its legacy in the development of science and technology.

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Witness to punishment inside the Ghanaian classroom by Luciana Storelli Castro

In my view, one of the most difficult tasks associated with living in a foreign country, especially a non-western lower-income developing country, is finding a delicate balance between accepting and constructively criticizing the dictates of that country’s moral code.

The question arises, is it right to impose one’s own post-modernist values on a society still in the lower rung of the development ladder? This is a question that I continuously wrestle with, especially as a volunteer at a local primary school.

As “Auntie Luci,” the foreign English teacher, I have been assigned to work with a 1st grade classroom of fifty-seven students. From day one I have suffered from a bit of culture shock, witnessing a form of classroom discipline completely alien to what I have ever known.

Teachers will roam the aisles with a yard – long cane, whacking children on the arm or back for talking, not following directions, or just being rowdy. To grab the class’s attention, the teacher will stand in front of the classroom and smack the cane repetitively on a desk threatening, “I will beat you!” if the class does not come to order.

In some instances, a student found to have somehow wronged another student (i.e. usually by either hitting or stealing the student’s pencil), will be asked to hold his or her hand open while the teacher administers several blows with the cane.

Another strategy a teacher might use in disciplining students includes singling out those who are misbehaving and having them kneel down in front of the classroom with their hands raised for an indeterminate period of time. Perhaps most disturbing, however, is that these disciplinary methods have been so concretely institutionalized that students have been programmed to react only upon physical infliction. To give an example, on one occasion I was left alone with the children and, from one moment to the next, the once harmonious classroom environment ruptured into anarchy. I had a whole classroom full of seven year-olds crying, running, shouting, and fighting – it was utter mayhem.

A little girl, having read the desperation in my face, handed me the cane. The message could not have been clearer: If you want to regain control of the classroom, whack away. I didn’t of course, but was saved by another teacher who was prepared to use the cane.

My personal dilemma is knowing how to respond to a disciplinary system that I feel is not only outdated but, most importantly, detrimental to student learning. Studies have shown that a child’s cortisol levels rise in order to manage stress and fear. This physiological reaction, in turn, blocks the child’s ability to reason.

After sustained reflection on my experience in the classroom, I continue to be torn by the underlying ethical predicament. I would strongly argue that there are universal values that transcend cultures, such as the right of children to secure their physical integrity. However, discovering ways to promote these universal values without coming off as a moral imperialist remains a foremost challenge.

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The residents of Khayelitsha, a township on the eastern outskirts of Cape Town, were rejoicing, deliriously swirling in fits of joy as the long awaited news reached them. On the back of the Mandela Park housing scandal which saw the Western Cape MEC for housing deliver only 5 of the 437 houses that were promised by the city of Cape Town.  Amidst the toilet saga which leaves hundreds of households with unfinished, unroofed external toilets, a West End play came to town!

A play of this caliber, of such international acclaim should be well received, especially considering the ‘pay as much as you can’ ticket price. However, the reception was rather subdued. Does this come as any surprise? Effectively you are bringing a show steeped in white middle class culture and expecting a distinctly African culture to embrace it. People are right to be skeptical about this cultural fusion. I understand what the organizers of this event were trying to achieve; as director Sean Mathias admirably states “We wanted to bring our production to the people of Khayelitsha in a venue that is accessible and at a price everyone can afford, and in this way properly honour the notion of ‘touring’”. Despite these admirable sentiments I can’t help wondering if this was sincerely an act which upholds the spirit of ‘touring’ or was it a cleverly executed publicity ploy?

Was it appropriate for a West End show to flounce into a community that is struggling to establish adequate sanitation, education infrastructure, sufficient housing, or a basic income level? On my way there we picked up a couple of hitchhikers and asked if they had heard of the play, ‘yeah yeah I heard something about that’. You didn’t want to go then? I inquired. A violent click erupted and a sound ‘CHA…I ain’t got no money’. The very assumption that this woman had the choice to go was perhaps ignorant, and the car was plunged into silence as we reflected upon our arrival in the township to see a West End play that the locals couldn’t afford. ‘Pay as much as you can’ was rather insulting considering people would buy more food for their family if they ‘could’, they would re-roof their house for the winter if they ‘could’, and they probably wouldn’t be chomping at the bit to see Waiting for Godot if they ‘could’.

On the other hand what harm does it do? Other than being exposed to an alien pastime and experiencing theatre at a level never before imagined, it is hardly a malicious act. Publicity stunt or not it has gathered white South African’s in a hitherto ‘excluded’ area. This recreated the atmosphere of the multi-racial, multi-ethnic fan parks of the World Cup, which was the first time South Africans stood up and noticed the beauty and unity of their people. Even those who have not made it out to the township will have talked about the prospect of going, or at the very least it will have been discussed. With this discussion, true feelings and fears will have emerged, hopefully with an element of introspection. Self reflection concerning the sub conscious prejudices that we harbor should be a positive action.

The positive vibes of the event were plainly evident during the show, which was a fusion of slapstick actions with a colossal underlying message. Whether this message was effectively portrayed is not important. Godot being a pseudonym for God, the questioning of a life spent waiting for a non-existent character, encountering along the way the struggles of reality, and the repetitive nature of a life spent waiting; all this was slightly, and perhaps wisely diluted. So, the opening speech was delivered solely in Xhosa, the audience of black, white and coloured people rose in a standing ovation, and everyone went home with a warm theatre buzz! It was nothing but a success, but was it appropriate? As Waiting for Godot departs the residents who for ‘one night only’ were witness to world class theatre are left waiting for houses, roofing, food, education, sanitation, opportunity, and dignity! Saving and campaigning for the next theatre performance is probably not high on their list of priorities!

I am interested to hear peoples opinions on the Waiting for Godot performance in Khayletisha, please comment.

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