The refugee who took on the British government, or why ‘aid’ doesn’t work in an international system of oppression and inequality

“For British politicians, foreign aid to Africa has become a cherished emblem of our idealism and generosity.” But this is a powerful story we’ve been told.

The following article details yet another tale of foreign ‘aid’ and corrupt governance (on all sides) doing irreversible damage to the lives and livelihoods of the supposedly intended recipients.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/12/ethiopian-refugee-who-took-on-the-british-government

I’d strongly recommend you reading the full article, but it’s a long read, so I’ve pulled out a few of the paragraphs I found most interesting and poignant.

“Ethiopia is in a race to develop. In a similar fashion to Rwanda, the authoritarian government, lacking a democratic mandate, has staked its claims to legitimacy on its ability to deliver economic growth, and it is in a terrible hurry. During the past decade, Ethiopia has pursued a Chinese-style rush to develop its economy: locking up dissenters, crushing the opposition with a succession of 99% electoral victories, and building massive road, rail, agribusiness and hydropower schemes without pausing to conduct the necessary social and environmental impact assessments.

Nonetheless, despite still knocking along the bottom of every poverty index, Ethiopia has earned a reputation as a development success story, and donors, including the UK, are very keen to help, praising Ethiopia’s apparent strong progress towards the UN’s millennium development goals: increasing primary school enrolment and improving statistics on access to healthcare, water and so on. But donors are steadfastly silent on human rights abuses. Ethiopia receives more aid than any other African country – close to $3bn per year, or about half the national government budget. For the donors, Ethiopia is a priority, a linchpin of their development efforts, research and policy; especially so for the UK, where rising aid budgets have propelled Ethiopia into second place, behind Pakistan, as the recipient of the most British aid.”

“In Gambella, the government’s plans for delivering these things took the form of villagisation. The inhabitants of Opik’s village, though, were mistrustful of the government’s intentions. There had been no dialogue, no consultation. If the government had done little for them before, why would they suddenly start caring now? They suspected a plot to steal their land. They had heard of investors coming to test soil in certain areas.

Their suspicions were well founded. In Opik’s district, the allocation of land for agribusiness was well under way. Information was patchy, but a study by the Oakland Institute, a US-based thinktank, estimated that in Gambella, at that time, the government had leased or marketed 42% of the region to investors. Speaking to investors in India, government officials referred to the land on offer as “unused,” “under-utilised” or “completely uninhabited”.”

“The Anuak had to wait 10 months for a clue. In October 2012, after questions were asked in the British parliament, the findings of the DfiD visits were quietlydeposited in the House of Commons library. They described massive flaws in the villagisation programme, inadequate services and insufficient food, possibly requiring an emergency response.

The first report, which has since disappeared from the parliament website, noted that more than half of respondents had said they did not want to move. The report warned of a “potential humanitarian crisis” due to the people’s “limited livelihood options”. It also warned of “reputational risks” to donors’ aid programmes. This, then, was the heart of the matter.”

“For first Tony Blair and now David Cameron, the essentialising of Africa has been a useful political arena for the exercise of idealism untainted by politics. It was a deft move, following the Iraq war, to establish the Blair Commission for Africaand the Make Poverty History campaign. For Cameron, ring-fencing aid spending “was a key part of the compassionate Conservative makeover,” a senior former No 10 adviser told me.”

“A former chief economist of DfID, who did not want to be named, told me, “If you’re asking, ‘Am I prepared to tolerate a certain level of human rights abuses in exchange for progress on development?’, the answer is yes.” The question, then, is who decides what constitutes a “tolerable” level of repression in the absence of a democratic system?”

“A former head of DfID Ethiopia said to me, in relation to the relocation of the Omo peoples, “but if they’re being relocated anyway, aren’t we making their lives better?” She could not see that there was a problem with underwriting the transaction. It is almost impossible for those who make a living dispensing aid to imagine how easily it can become a tool of repression. She evinced a kind of helplessness, whereas a report by the Oakland Institute into alleged cover-ups of human rights abuses noted that DfID and USAid are, “wilful accomplices and supporters of a development strategy that will have irreversible devastating impacts on the environment and natural resources and will destroy the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people.””

“Of all the academic economists working on Ethiopia, I could not find one who was willing to speak on the record for this article. Much of the professional field of development studies is dependent on DfID research grants, with many academics serving on multimillion-pound study teams.

“If you challenge the consensus and make headlines, it is going to make your life harder,” said one economist at a London university, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Career progression is not just about where you publish, it is also about the amount of money you can raise and, in that regard, DfID is the biggest donor by miles,” he said. The two main centres of development studies research in the UK, the Overseas Development Institute in London and theInstitute of Development Studies at Sussex University, have depended heavily on DfID contracts over many years: “If that dependence is not a kind of institutional capture, then I am not sure what is,” said Warwick’s Prof David Anderson, a rare critic.”

Thoughts and feelings welcomed as always…

Video

Mallence Bart-Williams on Sierra Leone – the richest country in the world and Western dependency on Africa

THIS.

Mallence Bart-Williams talks to Berlin about Sierra Leone – the richest country in the world, in nature, people, culture, treasures, minerals…and stamps.

“Of course the West needs Africa’s resources, most desperately. To power aeroplanes, cellphones, computers and engines. And the gold and diamonds of course. A status symbol to determine their powers by decor and to give value to their currencies.

One thing that keeps me puzzled, despite having studied finance and economics at the world’s best universities, the following question remains unanswered. Why is it that 5,000 units of our currency is worth 1 unit of your currency, where we are the ones with actual gold reserves?

It’s quite evident that the aid is in fact not coming from the West to Africa, but from Africa to the Western world. The Western world depends on Africa in every possible way, since alternative resources are scarce out here.

So how does the West ensure that the free aid keeps coming? By systematically destabilising the wealthiest African nations and their systems, and all that backed by huge PR campaigns, leaving the entire world under the impression that Africa is poor and dying and merely surviving on the mercy of the West. Well done Oxfam, UNICEF, Red Cross, Live Aid and all the other organisations that continuously run multimillion dollar advertising campaigns depicting charity porn to sustain that image of Africa globally.”

Guest post: White supremacy, black liberation, and global development: The conversations we’re not having

This article from How Matters appeared in my inbox and on my Twitter feed recently so I knew I needed to read it. It’s a really interesting read and I’d like to know what you think…

Originally posted here and republished with kind permission from Jennifer Lentfer.

“Below all of the talk of “evidence-based approaches” and “taking interventions to scale,” there is an undercurrent of disquiet.

It happens when “local partners’ capacity” is maligned. It happens when two people have the same idea, but it is considered legitimate only when the white guy in the room offers it. It happens when people of color are passed over for leadership positions, jobs, promotions, or pay raises. It happens when different opinions would be helpful, but perspectives are not asked for, or are discounted. It happens when only 1% of humanitarian relief funds make their way to national organizations in Haiti, in West Africa to fight Ebola, and now in Nepal. It happens when people of color are assumed to have a lower job status than they do and are treated as such. It happens with every unclosed feedback loop and every feedback loop not yet opened. It happens when the stories and photos we use to describe our work reinforce harmful stereotypes. It happens when an approach is suddenly considered “new” or “relevant” only because now donors have “discovered” it.

People’s experiences of everyday, subtle racism, or racial microagressions – and the resulting anger, powerlessness, fear, humiliation, and sadness – are not just fleeting instances. They accumulate. And the resulting frustration can result in deep hopelessness in a sector that is supposed to be about equality, fairness, and lifting each other up. The very premise of our industry – that others should live as those in the “developed world” do – has to be acknowledged and exorcised.

If US-based development practitioners have learned anything from the discourse on race in our country over the last few tragic weeks (and centuries…), it’s time for some uncomfortable conversations. And if we can’t find the courage to have the conversation now, then when will it happen?

I hear plenty of conversations about risk, or rather mitigating it in our sector, over and over in fact. But we need to take the next step to talk about control and power. Who has it? Historically, how did they get it? Systemically, how do they use it? And as a result, who is not welcome at the table when decisions are made?

I’m uncomfortable talking about this. Going under the surface is scary. But unless we open up the conversation on racism, sexism, and privilege in the global development sector, we will continue to perpetuate the same, tired system and make the same mistakes – ones that right now we believe can be solved by best practices and improved indicators.

When we face uncertainty in the global development sector, we have two choices. We can design (make abstract) and manage (control), or we can inquire (make real) and listen (let go). When our sector focuses our language, our meetings, our reports only the first option, we assume “responsibility to only a certain extent,” as described to me by Semhar Araia.

We are too protected by the abstractions of our development lexicon. We can too easily claim our commitment to “results” or “locally-led development” and too easily skip over the racism at the root of the problems we seek to address and the prejudices that color the solutions we profess.

Every time I talk about racism on my blog how-matters.org, I realize there’s much more I can and should be doing to advance this discussion in the global development sector. Every time I go to a conference and see a sea of white faces talking about “their” help to poor, brown people in the Global South, I see how much work needs to be done.

So I am assuming more responsibility. I need to learn more about people of color’s experience in international aid and philanthropy, if they are willing to share it, and how this can be improved. I need to engage (and challenge) other white people about why they are not doing so. Our sector does so well at ignoring “the political,” but that has got to change, starting with me.

Forgive me for the mistakes I will surely make”

Frankie Boyle: “Britain’s criminally stupid attitudes to race and immigration are beyond parody”

Frankie Boyle writes for the Guardian newspaper: “The anti-immigration election rhetoric is perverse – we fear the arrival of people that we have drawn here with the wealth we stole from them..”

This article has been around for almost a month now, but I’ve only just got round to reading it, and I’m glad I did. I’ve extracted a few of my favourite paragraphs from the Guardian article, but fully recommend reading the whole thing here.

“Even our charity is essentially patronising. Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day. Give him a fishing rod and he can feed himself. Alternatively, don’t poison the fishing waters, abduct his great-grandparents into slavery, then turn up 400 years later on your gap year talking a lot of shite about fish.

In a further nod to satire, Comic Relief this year focused on Malawi and Uganda. I didn’t see any acknowledgement that Britain had been the colonial power in those countries. “Thanks for the gold, lads, thanks for the diamonds. We had a whip-round and got you a fishing rod.”

A lot of racism comes from projection. White Americans have a stereotype of black people being criminals purely because they can’t acknowledge that it was actually white people that stole them from Africa in the first place. Today, you have the spectacle of black men being gunned down by cops who, by way of mitigation, release footage to show that the victims were running away. This is what happens when you don’t understand or even acknowledge history. You end up in a situation where, when slavery is the elephant in the room in your relationship with African Americans, you think it’s OK to say that you killed one of them because he was trying to escape.

Britain is in a similar place with colonialism. We have streets named after slave owners. We profited from a vile crime and feel no shame. We fear the arrival of immigrants that we have drawn here with the wealth we stole from them. For much of the rest of the world we must be the focus of bitter amusement, characters in a satire we don’t understand. It is British people that don’t learn languages, or British history. Britain is the true scrounger, the true criminal.”

Advertising aid – the good, the bad and the ugly

I had intended to post about this a long time ago, but hey, it’s better late than never eh? You might remember back in November last year, I posted a parody video Who Wants to be a volunteer? by The Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund.

Back in December, they held their annual Rusty Radiator Award in Oslo for charities using damaging development stereotypes in their advertising campaign. You’ll know from reading my previous posts that I believe that these stereotypes are not only unfair on those people portrayed in the adverts, but also perpetuates disempowering misconceptions and hinders long-term, effective development.

The winner of the award, as decided by social media voters, was South African aid organisations Feed A Child advert, the MOST ridiculous and offensive portrayal of a white women feeding a black child like a dog.

Jury’s comments: Completely ‘White Saviour’. David had to turn it off after 10 seconds. Racism isn’t something of 200 years back, it’s something very present in South Africa today. It’s interesting how this was produced by one of the biggest advertising companies in the world, and how they got it so very wrong. The message doesn’t justify using the same stereotypes to both raise awareness and steal agency. The poor are already depicted as incapable of their own rescue, now they are being compared to dogs. What next? Is there a score worse than 0?

Others shortlisted, include:

Hunger Stops Here – Concern Worldwide

Jury’s comments: “What mother would put their suffering kid in the middle of the sun and just sit there? This is straight up staged, with shocking images of children in HD. You would never put an American kid in an ad like this, because there’s too much dignity given to the privacy of the children. It promotes every stereotype about malnutrition, and tries to encourage giving and donation out of guilt. It’s like they found them by the roadside just waiting to die.”

The Most Important “Sexy” Model Video Ever – Save The Children USA

Jury’s comments: Uhm, wow. We’re speechless. They just got it wrong. This is an attempt to get Facebook likes and clicks by putting sex and poverty together. By using celebrities in this fashion, the message becomes hollow and meaningless. The models are made to look stupid. “I detest this kind of bullying. This video made me cringe”, says David

What Does Poverty Look Like? – CCF Canada

Jury’s comments: The winner of the Rusty Radiator 2013 is back! We thought we were watching a parody of it. They are basically using the same scenes they always use, we’d like to know how old these shots are. “Do you know what poverty looks like” – does it look like a person? Who talks about a human being like that? Teddy describes it as “poverty porn, white saviour complex, over-simplification to the causes of poverty to the missing $1 silver bullet solution to poverty”, and Boima as “everything that’s wrong with fundraising”. “I am amazed that this would run at any TV-station in the world”, says Rosebell.

The winner of the Golden Radiator Award, goes to the fundraising videos using creativity and creating engagement. In 2014, it was Save The Children UK’s Most Shocking Second a Day video

Jury’s comments: Any advocacy ad that can put you in the middle of the situation instead of casting people and situations you’d never imagine is a good one. This video presents conflict porn without overwhelming you with it, because you are so invested in this girl’s tragic day. You feel for the little girl as if she was someone you knew next door or your children went to school with. It emphasises the universality of suffering and empathy, and breaks racial stereotypes about who suffers.
– Video produced by Don’t Panic London

Also in December, The Guardian published a list of what it deemed ‘11 of the best aid parodies‘, turning the tables on the newly released Band Aid single. Including videos from Saturday Night Live and Africa for Norway/Radi-Aid, you can find the full list here.

One of my favourites is this Radi-Aid classic; Let’s Save Africa:

What do you think about these adverts? How do they make you feel? Are they totally inappropriate and offensive, or realistic representations of those living in extreme poverty? Do you know of any others worthy of this award?

Video

Aid: a sticking plaster approach to a gaping wound

Thank you Health Poverty Action (HPA), for your genuinely groundbreaking report pointing out something that is painfully obvious, but that a lot of ‘us’ won’t see or admit. That $192 billion every year is lost from Africa to the rest of the world – almost six and a half times the amount of aid given to the continent.

On Tuesday the charity, alongside a number of UK and African NGOs, released the report, Honest Accounts? The true story of Africa’s billion dollar losses, as a first attempt to calculate Africa’s losses across a wide range of areas. The calculations included illicit financial flows; profits taken out of the continent by multinational companies; debt repayments; brain drain of skilled workers; illegal logging and fishing and the costs incurred as a result of climate change.

The huge disparity between aid and resources leaving Africa is an issue that I’ve been wanting to tackle ever since I started this blog. The fact that we continue to fight in the UK to get the government to keep its commitment to allocate 0.7% of the budget to aid when we take so much from developing countries is shocking; the fact that ‘we’ consider that generous is abhorrent; and when you couple that with the fact that ‘aid’ is often spent to better our own national interest it’s another galling matter entirely (and definitely another blog post on the long list of topics and issues I’d like to explore).

HPA and its partners are calling on the UK government to reassess its focus on ‘aid’, which:

“paints a misleading picture of the UK’s ‘generosity’ towards Africa, and take urgent action to address Britain’s contribution to Africa’s poverty.”

HPA Director Martin Drewry calls it ‘sustained looting’ – the opposite of generous giving, and argues that the City of London is at the heart of the global financial system that facilitates this (NB: The HUGELY unfair global economic, social and political system that was built and is run by and for the West on things like greenhouse gases, tax haven networks, valuing money and power above all else, trampling all over the rest of the world, Western ideology, patriarchy and corporate greed etc etc etc). Agreeably he calls for change from NGOs too and asks them to move beyond their focus on aid levels to “communicate the bigger truth – exposing the real relationship between rich and poor and holding leaders to account”.

This is a start but I want to take things further. I want governments across the world to take notice of this report. All those governments who give a pinch with one hand while taking a fistful with another. We don’t need to ‘save’ ‘developing’ countries and we certainly can’t use aid to do so. We need transparency and honesty, we need equality and a level playing field and we need countries to stop pretending that they’re ‘helping’ others when it’s really a smokescreen for actions taken in their own self interest.  Not asking a lot huh?

Another key element to our aid issues is looking at how Africa (and other developing continents) are portrayed as a continent in need of help. There are a lot of harmful stereotypes and misconceptions about Africa and Africans in particular that need to be challenged and banished as they undermine the continent’s truth, dignity and ability and contribute to the dominant Western narrative that portrays Africa as the grateful beneficiary of the rich world’s generosity. I’m currently working on a little something with some pretty inspiring people that might go someway to kickstarting this, so watch this space. Let me know if you’re interested in finding out more!

I’d love to hear of/from others who have thoughts on this subject and of any articles/posts/books on this topic. Recommendations and comments welcome as always.

If you have time, I’d recommend reading this pretty cool comment piece from Martin Drewry on the Guardian Development Professionals Network about the report. His criticisms of a narrative that focuses on the importance of aid are particularly poignant and again something I’d like to address at a later date.

If you want to discuss this post on Twitter, please use @devtruths and the Health Poverty Action report hashtag #honestaccounts.

NB: Very excited to have discovered The Progressive Development Forum as a result of this article. Am looking forward to some interesting reading!