An Unbridled Optimist

I had the opportunity to see Desmund Orjiako, the Director of Communications for the African Union, speak this last week. Overall, it was a pretty typical diplomatic speech. He spent time praising both his own organization and the host country, in this case the US, and little time addressing the real issues that I would have liked to hear about, namely: Darfur, the DRC, Togo and Cote d'Ivoire. There were however, several short statements that were quite interesting.

Most shockingly, he made a prediction of no war in Africa by 2007. The room dropped dead silent as he said this and it took a few moments to register what he was saying. He made the very good points that a. all of Africa has now signed a pact of non-aggression and mutual defense and b. since the inception of the African Union two and a half years ago there hasn't been a successful coup on the continent. I am very excited about these facts, but the idea that Africa will be peaceful within 2 years is beyond what I can believe (no war in Europe by 2007 is a better goal). First of all, Africa's problem, for the most part, hasn't been with interstate conflicts that will hopefully be helped by the non-aggression pact. With the exception of ECOWAS and AU peacekeeping troops I don't think there are currently any wars in Africa that are between Nations except for Rwanda and Burundi's undeclared war on the Congo. Second, given the rapid democratization in the area, chances are that conflicts (at least in the short term) are going to increase. Statistically, it is new democracies that are most likely to engage in warfare (as opposed to established democracies and dictatorships). I don't mean to be a pessimist, in fact I like to believe that such an incredible turn around is possible in the world, but I have a hard time believing that enough of Africa's problems will be solved in two years as to make war an unnecessary part of the past.

Mr. Orjiako did outline several goals of the AU that were better suited to reality and were good things to hear. First and most exciting from my prospective as someone interested in planning and development, the AU is beginning to plan a trans-African highway system. Currently, most of Africa’s road systems are built in a colonial style i.e. to bring goods from the inland areas to the coast where they can be transported to Europe or the Americas. Few of Africa's roads (or railways for that matter) really help Africans in any way. They also aren't built to promote trade across former colonial borders (except in cases like Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire where they had the same colonial power and one was landlocked). Second was the concept not just of gender equality, but of gender parity in education and governmental postings. This will become exceedingly important and fewer and fewer men are left due to the AIDS pandemic in Africa. Lastly, he spoke about the push for good (by which I mean transparent) governance and the rule of law, including a pan-African court to try war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Mr. Orjiako unfortunately didn't speak at length about what the AU was doing to combat AIDS. The death tolls in Africa are now reaching 2,500,000 Africans per year (and increasing an astounding 15% per year since the inception of the Bush administrations disastrous policies of non-culturally relevant abstinence based education). * What most Americans don't understand about the spread of AIDS in Africa is that in many places the spread is not caused by adulterous practices (which is why Bush's programs are failing). In the biblical book of Ruth, Ruth's husband dies and she essentially is handed off to her next of kin (kinsman redeemer I believe is the biblical term). This is a common practice that protects widows in the ancient world from death. Currently, many African cultures still use this sort of a practice. So, a man contracts AIDS. Before he dies, he infects his wife. She, not having anywhere else to go, marries his brother, who usually already has other wives. He becomes infected and passes in on to his other wives, who in turn move on the next closest relative when he dies. It's a never-ending cycle that in the end leaves entire families and villages dead.

Mr. Orjiako also took some time to praise America as the country that gives more then any other. It is time for American's to understand that this is completely untrue. Aid coming from the USA amounts to just .07 percent of budgetary expenditures and most of that is military aid. According to Jeffrey Sachs, the head of the UN Millennium Project, article in the newest (March/April 2005) issue of Foreign Affairs, the US is actually the lowest giver in the 22 country DAC (Development Assistance Committee) or what are essentially the western industrialized nations of the world. The US gives only .15 percent of GNI (gross national income) to developing countries. The next lowest is Italy at .17%. The average is .41% and the UN target is to have all 22 countries over.7% by 2010. The highest giver is actually Norway at .92% followed by Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands (all above 8%). I really believe it is time for Americans to wake up to how little we actually contribute and be outraged. We truly have been blessed with more then we need and it is time to step up and give every bit that we can. We should be #1 on this list, like most Americans believe we are. If we truly want to be the greatest nation on earth, then let's prove it by our compassion, not our military.

*Stats from the WHO (World Health Organization) and from Mr. Orjiako’s speech.


Cox 9:58 AM  

I didn't know about the whole "kinsman redeamer" issue. Sounds like a situation where female ownership of property could empower these widows to continue with a better standard of living, but not expose their in laws to HIV. By this I mean that if the goods and property of the husband pass on to the wife if he dies, then regardless of her infection status, she need not fear life without the "protection" of her next of kin. Obviously this is not going to be the acceptable option, because it encourages ownership of property. But in developing and non-western countries, the path to gender equality usually hinges on the ability of women to own property, and not BE property.

Secondly, your statistics are misleading. If we are giving .8% of our GDI, and luxembourg gives 8%, it probably means that we are giving 10x more than they are. Because the US has such a huge economy, .8% of our GDI might even equal the total GDI of Luxembourg. Percentages only mean something if you know the number that the percentages are based on.

But hey, at least you base your opinions on something, not just making them up as you go.

onetenchelsea 4:31 PM  

Female ownership is a great point, and something that should definitly be incouraged, however ownership of property still doesn't guarentee that you are going to be able to make a living off of it. Many african farms messure less then 2 acres. By contrast, most American would consider any less then 75 to be impossible to live on. Beyond that, you have the problem that in many african contries land is still communally held, so the man who dies doesn't have anything to hand down. He was just one of the many people who worked to insure the survival of his village. I would hope that female empowerment and parity within Africa will be one of the things that helps the stop of aids, but at the same time, we need to learn to work within the cultural systems that have been helping people survive for 1000's of years.

Second, while it is true that the actual dollar amount given by the US is probably higher then Luxembourg (based on the US population of 276 million with an average income of $33,900 and Luxembourgs population of 454,000 and average income of $48,900) that doesn't make the percentage of giving any higher. If you'd like, we can compare to larger countries. Again, the US gives .15% of GNI (unfortunatly, I only have GNP stats, so I can't give you a dollar amount). France (who is one of the other notoriously stingy countries in the western world) with a pop of 60,000,000 and an average income of $23,500 gives .41%. Germany with a pop of 83,000,000 and an average income of $26,600 manages to give .28% despite thier unemployment and resession problems at home and the UK with about 60,000,000 and an average income of $24,300 gives .34%. This also doesn't include EU giving which is would raise the percentages that these three large countries give. So, yes, percentages are only important if you know what they are based on, so hopefully I've given you some ideas. As a further comparison, the US spent 3.2% of GNI on the military (in 1999, I assume it's gone up sense then). And, even if .8% of our GDI is more then the entire GDI of Luxembourg, that still doesn't make us more generous. If anything it makes us the rich man who wants everyones praise for our tithing compared to the widow who gave her only coin away.

And just to be clear that I'm not making stuff up;Bibliography:

Collapse by Jared Diamond
Foreign Affairs March/April 2005 ed.
The United States of Europe by T.R. Reid
CIA World Fact Book 2001 ed.

Chris Dugan 12:55 AM  

Another thing to keep in mind is what is meant when a country is "giving" to another. Are the percentages you site from world governments (i.e. money being taxed from the citizenry), private charities, or a combination of the two?

I don't know, but I have a feeling that those percentages are based on governmental charity also known as "foreign aid" and not representing any kind of private giving. Factor in independent charities and we might have a different story...

It's like what happened after the Tsunami's. The UN started accusing the United States of not "giving enough" while completely ignoring the hundreds of private (or actually effective) charities that were giving aid. The UN has egg all over their face on that one, but then again, when do they not?

Being forced by the government to give to a cause (read:taxes) isn't any kind of charity at all.

I completely agree with you that Africa needs more help. But as a Christian, I believe it is the job of the universal Church and not secular government to assist mankind. The Church as a body and individual Christians can absolutely do a better job of helping out, and Christian charity is pretty pathetic right now (but then again, so is our tax system). The Church should spend the money and get their hands dirty. The government's job is to simply get out of the way.

onetenchelsea 10:52 AM  

You're right that this does leave off private charities, however, that doesn't make the playing field less equal. According to "the european dream" by rifken, the average european has about 10% more disposable income (based on lower costs of living and fewer children) and gives on average .5% more to privite charities. Which means that the gap actaully widens if you throw in private giving.

And while I agree that it would be great if Churches were doing thier part for the poor, it would be ludicris to expect the government to stop their giving while churches are woefully neglectful of their duties to the poor. (and especially the poor outside of the US). For most churches, the most that is ever done for africa is an occasional clothing drive (which, acording to Paul Theroux) usually hurts africans, because we are suppling something that they have the ability to make for themselves. Perhaps a cellphone drive would be better suited. Most church money goes into one of two things in Africa: evangelism or weapons. More then once, American christians have been tricked into giving to rebels based on faulty info. For example, in southern Sudan, we were always taught that the war was between Northern Arabs Muslems and Southern African Christians. In reality it is between Norhtern Arab Muslems and Southern Africans, 74% of whom are also Muslem and only 26% of whom are christians. Based on this false infomation the american evengelicals gave hundreds of thousands in arms aid that kept this bloody racial conflict going for a little over 20 years. One could also speak of Mozambique, where the church actually funded mercinaries from South Africa invading to destablize a Socialist government based on false stories that the White South African's told about the outlawing of Christianity (when they really were just worried about having a democraticly elected black person running a country so close to thier own.) I don't write this as some sort of christianity bashing, there are some great christian organiztions that really do help people, I'm just saying that we should be careful in saying government giving bad christian giving good. In both cases we should look very carefully to see where the money is actally going.

And, to be blunt, do you know how much of the money you give to either your chuch or the government makes it into helping the poor? If you don't I think you should find out. and if it isn't anything, I would hope that you'll research finding an NGO (i really like Medicans Sans Frontiers) to give to where some of it will, whether it is for poor americans or for people in other parts of the world or that you'd petition your pastors or representatives that you think more should be going to help people (which was really my point in the first place).

Chris Dugan 12:43 PM  

You are saying that Europeans, by and large, give more to private charities? I find that extraordinarily hard to believe.

onetenchelsea 1:57 PM  

I am, in fact, saying that. Not only that but I've given you a reference to back it up if you'd like to check.

Europeans (i'm generalizing here) tend to be very concerned with what goes on in the world. In fact, i'm surprised by your surprise (come on Dugan, where's that cynisism I've grown to love). Even in churches where a 10% is expected the actual amounts of money given by people is significantly lower. Americans tend to have more children, less disposable income, and higher debts then Europeans. We also have a greater degree of seperation from the rest of the world because of our geographical location. Europeans are better travelled then americans, and almost all of them that I know (which is quite a few, considering I lived there) have lived outside of thier country for at least 6 months. And lets not forget the reason that so many people give: tax breaks. These are just a prevelant in Europe as they are in America.

I guess I just don't really understand where you are getting your surprise. If you have any contridictary statistics I'd really like to see them, because my understanding and the things i've read lean heavily in the other direction.

Grahame 7:38 PM  

Hey, Zakcq. I was in Mexico this week, so I just read this today. Please note that I haven't thoroughly read the replies here, so I may be repeating other comments, but I'm going to the park with my wife and kids soon, so this will hopefully be a quick one. So sorry for any comment repetition.

Anyway, I'd like to start off by saying that saying the US doesn't give enough to world causes based on the percentage of their GDP/GNP (depending on how long ago you took Econ classes) isn't a fair argument. Any one European country is a fraction of the size of the US, so of course their GDP is going to be smaller than ours, and of course their giving taxes their GDP more than ours does, so of course they're going to look at it statistically and think that we aren't doing enough. But what rule book or treaty says that we have to give a certain percentage of our GDP? When you look at dollar amounts, America gives a much larger slice of pie than any one European country does (and I'd include Japan, since they might as well join the EU too), but a lot of that comes from charities. The government gives a good chunk too, and it's unfortunate that our allies can only seem to look at it from their own perspective and judge us by their own self-imposed rules.

No war in Africa by 2007? Won't happen. The violence in Africa isn't government versus government. It transcends that. It's Tutsis vs. Hutus (Rwanda) and Africans vs. Arabs (Darfur, from what I understand), and the haves vs. the have-nots (Somalia). Somalia was a different matter, however, because it was warlords fighting for turf and capital (if you will), and innocent people were dying in the backwash. Darfur and Rwanda are different, in that it is ethnic and tribal, and these things will always scar the record of Africa (not unlike clashes between the Serbs, Croats, and Kosovars...one round the Serbs kick butt, and a few years later the Kosovars get revenge and kick butt. It's a vicious cycle). I think the reason the US doesn't get more involved is because this isn't as "simple," if you'll excuse the phrase as Iraq or Afghanistan. In a tribal war, you need to make absolutely sure that the side you support is a side worth supporting, because you're stepping into a war that you don't truly understand.

Note: I say "simple" for Iraq and Afghanistan because it was/is a matter of invading the country, cleaning out the major insurgent pockets, staying long enough to ensure some stability, and leaving. If we were to intervene in Africa, it would be a MUCH larger can of much bigger, nastier worms.

Anyway, saying there will be no wars in Africa by 2007 is about as useless as saying there will be true and lasting peace in Israel before the End Times and without the intervention of either God or the Anti-Christ.

Also, Zakcq, I'm confused by your comment about hoping for no wars in Europe by 2007. Out of interest, which wars have recently ravaged Europe, besides class wars? If you're counting the Cold War, it's been around 14 years. The militia clashes in the Balkans could be called wars in the same sense as the wars currently going on in Africa, but aren't true wars. It's a cycle of ethnic cleansing that goes around and around, and no amount of government intervention will stop it. You can call for peace all you want, and you may get it for a time, but all it'll take is for a Serb to say "f**k you" to a Kosovar, and you'll soon have more clashes.

Anyway, Zakcq, I'm sorry you take a dim view of your own country, and that progressive Euro-ideals have tainted your opinions of this great and giving country. But I agree with Cox, that it was a well written piece with opinions based on facts that, while perhaps inflated or exaggerated, are at least not made up from thin air.

onetenchelsea 8:32 PM  

thanks for the comments, for info regarding countires size and giving stats see above. I've already responded to those. As far as your question as to what treaty requires giving, there is not actually treaty, but rather an agreement called the UN millenium project that the major 22 have agreed on regarding international standards for giving. It calls for all of the 22 to have set standards. The US has already agreed to these standards, and, by 2010 is supposed to have raised thier giving to .7% of GNI.

I agree that the wars in Africa aren't going to end by 2007, although I would say that the reasons are a bit more uniform then what you've said. Actually, I think that the causes in the Balkans are actually the same. I don't think that ethnic confict is endemic. I think most often it is whipped up by a government (or a leader) who is trying everything they can to keep power. Unfortunatly, this is something that African leaders learned for their colonial governments (as did the Balkans from their colonial government.) there is actually an interesting book on the subject by a Conservative Brittish Africa historian named Basil Davidson called the Black Man's Burden (he actaually compares Eastern Europe to Africa in the book.)

As far as wars in Europe, the Balkans are the biggest example, but one shouldn't forget the Caucuses. Although they are a far corner of Europe, they are still major conflicts, both between the Russians and Checnyans and between the Armanians and Azerbyjanies. There are also sepratist wars in Transdinar (in Moldovia) and in Azerbyjan, and major instablity in White Russia and Ukraine.

As far as your acusition of my dim views of this country. I would counter that this country was not built on the principles that everyone must agree with everyone. I recently read a history book that talked a lot about the aftermath of the Civil War. I've always been amazed by some peoples lack of reality regarding the south, however, in some ways it seems remarkably simaller to people in America now. Why is it that any critism makes one against america? Why does my belief that America can do more for the rest of the world make me anti-american? We can do more for the rest of the world. We have a crap load of money that we don't always use wisely. We could have more money if we stopped letting the rich and large corperations getting away with paying less taxes then I do. I have lived in Europe, and I like it alot there. But it isn't without its problems. Germany does some things really well, other it doesn't do well. My disagreement with some German policies doesn't make me anti-German, any more then my disagreements with some of the policies of the US makes me anti-american. How do you expect a democracy to work if no one can say that anything is wrong?

I really believe that the biggest thing that we have the opertunitty to do to insure the safety of American into the next century is to fight poverty. I really believe that it, in large part, lays at the bottom of most of the US's current conflicts. Terrorism is, unfortunatly, one of the few ways that the super poor can strike at the super rich. The current way we are fighting wars can only help in the short term. In that same book that I've been reading, they also talk about the Spanish-American War. I was struck by the simallarities. We choose to fight a war that many people thought was unnessasary, however, once we had taken over Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Phillapines, people were, in general pretty happy with the results. (on an interesting side note, the war also had it's abu ghrab scandle, having to do witha torture called the water death, in which people were drowned by poaring dirty water down peoples throats. There were a few minor convictions of soldiers, all of whom said that the orders came from above, but who's superiours were never examined) Cuba and the Phillapines were "returned" to home rule rather quickly, however, Americans esentially retained control of the economies. 60 years later, you know what happened in Cuba, and the philapines are still remarkably unstable. If we don't begin to deal with the real causes of our problems, we're never really going to be safe.

I guess this sums it up: I really think that Americas interests would be better served if we spent less on the military and more on poverty reduction. We would be safer, more respected and truely deserving of being called the greatest country in the world.

Chris Dugan 11:13 AM  

Your theories on poverty as the root of all evil are intriguing Zakcq but there's just one problem.

Most Arab terrorists are filthy, stinking rich. If you follow the money trail, you'll find they are funded by large wealthy families with large oil corporations. Compassionate liberals want to believe
terrorists are these poor, frustrated, daffy helpless people and that if we could just, I don't know, send Susan Sarandon to Iran with bags full of Riyals it would make the difference. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And for someone who is a world-saavy as you how can you call anything in America poverty-striken. This is the only country in the world with fat poor people. Think about that.

I want to reduce poverty too, and help people, and send aid and all of those things. I think most everybody does and I don't think conservatives are as heartless as you think they are. Where we differ is in the method. You'd like to see world governments and the UN distributing wealth, and I'd like to see the job carried out by charitable institutions and the church at large.

Grahame 11:26 AM  

For clarification's sake, I never said you're anti-American. Obviously you don't hate it here, or you'd leave. It just seems that people like you and Ryan can't find anything positive about what we as a country have contributed to the world's greater good. It sounds (based on comments that you've made) like you see the proverbial glass as half empty. I'm getting the impression that, if confronted by a bunch of Europeans about how messed up the US is, you'd be more inclined to agree with them, where I would more likely try and point out counter arguments (even though I can freely and readily admit that our country and government makes mistakes). I'm not trying to make this a pissing match, but I was wondering if you guys were aware of anything positive the US is doing, or are we just cocking it all up?

Re: the Balkans conflicts, and also the Chechen clashes, I see your point, since guys like Slobodan Milosevic were the government heads who administrated the genocides. But my point is, before the Serbs committed their highly publicized atrocities in Kosovo, the Kosovars had committed just as many not-so-highly publicized atrocities against the Serbs. Yet we jumped in with the poor Kosovars, demonizing the Serbians, and making them seem like Nazi butchers, which is completely inaccurate and unfair. Yes, they committed atrocities, but unlike Nazi Germany, who was persecuting a people who had done nothing to harm the country or its people, the Serbians were exacting revenge for past crimes. I'm not saying that either side is right and just, because they're not. I'm saying that, as with the Balkans conflicts, we cannot just jump into Africa, pick a side, and call it fair, because tables turn so easily there.

As far as fighting poverty, I see where you're coming from. But I don't really think the Terrorists hate America because we're relatively rich and they're dirt poor. It's more ideological than that. Fighting poverty won't stop the terrorists. It may curb the activities of smaller groups, but the big ones like al Qaeda don't care about money. They have the backing of enough Saudi oil magnates that money is no object to them. It costs money to get foreigners into the US. It costs money to streamline them into American life in such a way that they just blend in. It costs money to buy stockpiles of weapons. And if you're dirt poor, you can't do that. I think it's very dangerous to assume that fighting poverty will hand us victory in the war on terror. It may win us some more allies, but it won't vanquish those who seek to destroy our way of life.

Safer? I doubt it. The only way we'll be safer is if we kill all the terrorists, and we know how likely that is. I think finding and killing bin Laden will make us safer than fighting poverty will.

onetenchelsea 10:05 PM  

I think it is important to change the language that you were using to say that the Serbs perceived themselves as taking revenge for past crimes (that they were conveniently reminded of by their leadership). In much the same way, Germans during the 30’s were taught to believe that the Jews were taking economic advantage of their country. It was again, a way for the Nazis to retain power. Although it may seem extreme that people were willing to exterminate people for economics reasons, I’ve seen some pretty nasty “those immigrants are steeling our jobs” rallies, both in the US and Germany (uh oh, I’ve said something bad about Germany). You tell someone in the working class that the reason they can’t put food on the table is another ethic group and things can get out of hand really quickly.

With regards to the question of the “rich” Arab: it is true that much of the leadership of many of the terrorist groups have quite a lot of money, but they would not be able to find people to carry out their work without poverty. It isn’t the rich kids who are carrying out suicide bombings (there is actually an interesting article in a Foreign Affairs journal back in 2003 regarding the monetary incentives for Martyrdom, I’ll try to dig it up and post the exact issue). Also, it is untrue that stockpiling weapons requires a massive wad of cash. The average AK47 or comparable machine gun goes for just over $10 in Africa. Even in the most impoverished nations, one can find guns. I think I read that the September 11th attacks cost Al Quida about $200,000. I know that may seem like a lot of money for someone who works at a bookstore, but for someone looking at strike a major blow against the most powerful nation in the world, it is a downright bargain. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that the two countries that Al Quida used the most for training camps were also two of the bottom three Islamic countries in terms of average income, Sudan and Afghanistan (the other being Somalia) And also don’t think it a coincidence that if you look at countries of origin for Al Quida recruits, few come from the UAE, Iran, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, Turkey or the other relatively well off Islamic nations. In a lot of ways, Turkey is a model for what the developing world needs: namely, good governance, a large middle class and good systems of education. I came across an interesting quote today. I think it is from someone that you guys will respect, “the war on poverty is bound to the war on terror.” Who said that? That was Sec. of State Powell. As far as “finding and killing all the terrorists” you are never going to be able to do that as long as the reasons for people becoming terrorists still exist. And I really don’t think that Islam is to blame (although the leaders definitely us it to there advantage, as do our leaders). In fact, in the middle ages, when Islamic culture was flourishing and Christian Europe was stuck in the dark ages, we were the ones using terrorist means to fight them. The children’s crusade is a great example. There is also this torture that the Teutonic Knights used that I just love. They would nail a guys scrotum to a board that then give him the hammer to get himself out. If that isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is.

I also noticed something in my comment above that was wrong. The millennium project goals are for 2015 not 2010. You can read about them in full in the new book by Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty.

I just tried to sit down and compose a list of things that I think America does well, and you are right, I had a hard time doing it. Baseball, mountain dew and innovation in general came to mind right away (who else could have come up with a cartoon about a super intelligent lab rat trying to take over the world? Belgium? I think not!) After a few minutes of thinking though, I realized that I could write quite a long list on what Minnesotans do well or what Bay Staters do well. The truth is, I stopped thinking of myself as American a long time ago. I’m first a Minnesotan and second a citizen of the world, third a Bay Stater, then probably a Minnesotan again, then a Berliner, then American after you get done with all of that. It’s hard work for me to answer when people ask what I am. Ich komm aus Minnesotien? Man Amrekaye hastam? Je Suis de Boston? I just make a better regionalist then I do trying to figure out America as a whole. But I guess that is one of the things I do like about the states. There is a lot of diversity of culture between the regions. In most other countries, we would be 4 or 5 countries. It is pretty amazing that we are able to hold it all together with such ease. Canada certainly has far more problems then we do. It does make it tough to get people on board with my plans to secede Minnesota and set up a People’s Republic though.)

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