The Ritualistic Cynicism of African Bullets & Honey Navel Gazers

There is a certain Anonymous who has been peppering the comments section with a wake-up-you-navel-gazers message. Below are his or her latest reactions to my cynical take on Live8 and the Make Poverty History campaign.

Anonymous said…
You forgot to mention that all this was inspired by Jeffery Sachs’ report to the UN (he’s the Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is also Director of the UN Millennium Project and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals)?

…but then it’s only generally accepted that he’s the world’s foremost expert on such things as poverty in Africa.

Of course you guys know better than him…

I’m sure he & Kofi Annan are really secretly planning to take over the world…

No more excuses…

Anonymous said…
While academic armchair revolutionaries like some on this thread try to out do each other on a new cynical take on the debt effort people are actually dying. Look closely and there is no difference between the politicians and their tired begging and the navel gazers ritualistic cynicism.

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your comments. I am struggling to understand what you have against a little navel gazing or even being an armchair-bound academic – in fact I dare say that it is usually the best place for academics. But I do understand that you are moved by the urgency of the situation, “people are dying” and here I am dithering, questioning, doubting and opposing those like Jeffrey Sachs and Kofi Annan who daily express their concern and outline the latest plan to save Africa. The situation is urgent, but not for increased aid. The urgent task is for Africans to face their governments and demand the kind of leadership we need. The priority is for us to fight for rules of the game that allow us to create more wealth outside the purview of overly centralised governments that keep bulking up at the expense of the citizen due to the constant flow of aid monies into them. For me to argue that Kenya’s leaders – for instance – should stop begging is no excuse. It reflects my conviction that the present course amounts to a kill-me-slowly agenda. For the past few decades – not to even speak of the period since the late nineteenth century – matters have gotten steadily worse in many parts of the continent despite the relentless talk of aid and foreign salvation.

Even your helpful outlining of Jeffrey Sachs resume, meant I suppose to shut me up through the sheer weight of title and prestige, leaves me totally unshaken in my position. If anything it convinces me even more that our destiny left in his hands and of those like him will lead to nothing but more pain. Sachs is that self involved, spotlight seeking creature that Africa has had its fill of; the kind that one writer described as “revolutionaries with a return ticket home”. This is the messiah who ‘saved’ Bolivia, Poland and Russia and has now decided that he will do the same for Africa and the environment – even Jesus would have balked at the work rate. He represents a rent-seeking agenda: issuing from his mouth will always be demands for more foreign aid and more western involvement in Africa because he knows this is what keeps him in the game. The aid business is just that, a business.

Look carefully, and just behind Bono and Geldof are the aid agencies – such as those run by Kofi Annan – and NGOs all promoting new solutions for Africa and playing up the guilt game for all its worth. Africa crises have become the perfect fundraiser. From a few hundred 4×4 driving, high earning aid expats in the 60s to over 25,000 today, the size of the effort keeps growing in direct proportion to the size of African poverty. In May, the World Bank reported that 40% of aid budgets are spent on consultants alone. Of the $50 billion in overseas development aid, consultants make off with $20 billion. Just add to that the cost of running offices and hiring permanent staff, not to mention the five-star hotels, constant travel to exotic locales for conferences and other lavish perks. Action Aid weighed in as well, reporting that almost half of aid is spent before the money even gets to Africa.

You are correct Anonymous: the time for excuses is past. Excuses that there is not enough aid; that our people are too ignorant and unproductive to help themselves; and that without the help of the Sachs and Geldofs of the world we are doomed. They are poor excuses, made too often by the very people who benefit from us remaining mired in poverty and at war. If only that starving kid with the snotty nose and the distended belly knew how many people depend on him for their careers and much needed moral uplift. If he only knew how many westerners he has lifted out of poverty and the multitudes he has supplied a cause. I wish he would feel the awesome swell of the ego that is felt by every passing rock star and Hollywood actress who uses him as a photo op so that he can know that they may be feeding him but that he too is giving them something that they crave.

Finally Anonymous, what is the price and place of pride? Pride in the sense of confidence in one’s innate capacity to be independent and able to thrive. Surely it is this feeling that underlies all achievement, all survival and every demand for justice. Where it has collapsed, the cause has been human – often governmental. It therefore seems to me that the recovery of this sense of independence, this pride, will by necessity involve a showdown between people and their leaders. But the latter would rather direct their people’s attention to outsiders, offering the alternate hope that there is no need to become independent since the Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, Director of the UN Millennium Project and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General is on the case anyway.

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About bulletsandhoney
I read my first book when I was three, then my second one a few weeks later. It has carried on this way for decades with only temporary distractions of eating, fighting, loving, heartbreak and other such irrelevant biographical details.

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