Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Are private owned charity agencies doing any good to the countries in need?

When I was growing up as a kid in Greece, I remember that almost every year my mother was buying notepads of UNICEF for me to use at school. Just so that we did our little bit to help their cause.

We were watching so many advertisements on our television set about the humanitarian emergency that some parts of the world were facing, so we were moved by all the images we were exposed to.

I am now a 35 year old man and one would think that nearly 30 years later, the campaigns to save the "poor kids of Africa" would be a thing of the past.

Well they aren't. After so many charity events, concerts like LIVE AID and LIVE8, high profile campaigns all over the world and many new NGOs and private charity organizations like Concern and Barnados, the continent of Africa still needs help.

Where are we going wrong? It is doubtful that it's only the African leadership's fault, that their continent is still lacking the development that other parts of the world have achieved. Though Africa is not the only region of the so called "Third World" suffering, just the worse hit. Humanity can not progress any further if we leave those regions behind. How can we tackle the situation and is charity and the provision of loans the answer to this problem?

Most of us when we think of the African continent, two main images usually come first into our minds: its wildlife and its poverty. Images of lions, elephants, giraffes and zebras, together with children barely alive from hunger in Africa's slums. These are the usual images that we are exposed to and coming out from this continent.

If you ask any African immigrant in Europe though, he/she will tell you that these images often offend them. They do not always portray the real life in Africa, apart from some poverty stricken regions. Most Africans do not identify with those images.

We rarely see anything about the lifestyle of the average African family, it simply doesn't "sell!" Nobody would give money to support a well established African family. Besides, these practices also help supporting the idea that Africa desperately needs more aid, when in reality all it needs is investments. With loans and "aid" is easier to control, corrupt and manipulate the African governing elites. With direct investments we offer permanent solutions, but with loans we can control an indebted country for decades to come.

So what is the role of private NGOs in the whole story? First of all, it is their advertisements that brainwashes us to associate Africa only with poverty, just as we relate Greece with tax evasion and corruption now. We have been doing the same on Africa for decades.

Little do we know how rich Africa is actually. Underneath its fertile soil lie vast natural resources that other nations, multinationals and corporations want to get access to. The same "trick" is used today in countries like Greece and we witnessed it happening in Latin America too. The global capitalist elites like to throw more debt on a country or region, then get its natural resources for nothing.

Most of Africa's countries were formed not too many decades ago. Creating a nation from scraps is not easy, especially when you have to deal with the legacy of colonization. The European colonizers made sure their very successful policy of divide and rule was applied all over the continent and in result, it created many inter-ethnic or religious wars and tensions. So when the African countries gained their freedom, the old hatred that the colonizers promoted remained and it kept working its corrosive way into African life.

Generally the problem is that it is good business for some to keep promoting these stereotypical images. "Charity" is profitable. And how can they keep this business alive? By advertizing the "need" and "urgency" to help a dying child. As disgusting as it may sound, dying children always sell.

Some of these charities have done a lot of good and have helped in building and restoring communities. But their actions do not offer a permanent solution. This is not the way to help a region in need with long term results. The only way to achieve this is with direct investments.

We should be helping these countries to learn how to exploit their natural resources and utilize all their potential. Imagine if Africa was as free to develop and reach its full potential, how the rest of the world would look like? If we did not have the developing countries to "offer" their cheap first materials like Africa, or the cheap work force of some Asian countries like India, things would be much different for all.

Of course recently Africa enjoys a growth rate that is much higher of that in Europe, but there are still huge economic disparities between the developed and the "third" world. And if Europe and America remain in recession for long, Africa alone won't be able to sustain its growth rates. The solution would be to promote the setting up of industries in Africa, engage in fair trade and Europe, America, as well as other countries should lower their protectionist policies.

The African nations should then be able to exploit their natural resources and trade them in the global markets for the benefit of their people first. The rest of the world should be investing in the continent not with aid and loans, but with factories and jobs, universities and hospitals.

Another worthy initiative is the promotion of local businesses. Not just in Africa, but in every other region of the world including Europe itself, to deal with the economic crisis. Encourage local businessmen to create new jobs and with them will come prosperity and stability, education, more industries and investments from abroad and withing the region.

To conclude, if you agree that the three decade saga of "aid" to Africa and the rest of the "third" world has gone too far, then it is time to change attitudes. Besides, Europe as the biggest donor on our planet, can not keep up with this. Most of our continent is gripped by a recession. And above all, it is not ethical to portray a whole continent as we have been so far, forcing them to seek jobs elsewhere and then blaming them for coming into our countries.

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