Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Know Thyself

Tony Blair set off for Washington today to try and convince George Bush to sign up to his anti-poverty agenda for Africa. They’ll argue and probably disagree on how much aid and debt relief is needed, but also on what strings should be attached to those receiving aid. Conditionality is as old as aid and debt relief itself. It’s partly a consequence of country’s desire to exert economic and political power and control over other countries – raw realpolitik. However, it is also the product of the West’s view of its own development.

Both George Bush and Tony Blair are confident that the way to create development in Africa to develop is to let the invisible hand do its work and let trade and economic markets do their work with minimal interference. This is the way, they argue that the West developed to be the prosperous and civilised society that it is today. If Africa could just establish the rule of law and an open system of trade then their problems would disappear. From this perspective, attaching conditions to debt relief and aid is benevolent paternalism – a nasty dose of medicine that will be good in the long run. However, all this is based on the absolute conviction that the West has developed in the best way possible.

But what if the West’s way isn’t the best way? What if economic interactions aren’t the overriding way that human relationships should be viewed? What if human happiness isn’t dependent on a nation’s GDP as figures from the UN suggest? If we take a closer look at our own development then how we view the progress of the African continent is turned on its head.

The western model of development since the early 19th century has lifted huge numbers out of poverty, made people feel safer and created half a century of peace, but has also dramatically increased economic inequality, relational poverty and environmental degradation. We should look at our own development not just through an economic lense, but also from social, political, religious and cultural perspectives.

Bearing this in mind should inspire humility in our approach to international development. Bush and Blair should not be forcing people to follow our own, flawed development path, but offer to help find a different way forward. If they do so they may find that their own perspective worldviews develop and the strings they end up attaching to aid and debt relief will be very different.

If you want more info on alternative pespectives to development I recommend dipping into 'walking with the poor' by Bryant Myers. It's quite hard going, but an inspiring read.


  1. David PickersgillTuesday, 26 July, 2005

    mate, brilliant. Hear hear.


  2. "If Africa could just establish the rule of law and an open system of trade then their problems would be complete."

    Did you mean that?

    Difficult to see how Africa's problems could be any more complete :-(.

  3. Thanks Chris,
    have changed it to make more sense :)