Juan had originally published this article on 30 July 2011 on the blog IdeasdePapel. This was his very first blogpost, and as such is an example of free, loose, very long and unfinished writing, with more-often-than-normal non-sensical sentences and statements. The original title was Why do we continue to cut the weeds, but don’t touch the roots?
For these first scrap notes at IdeasdePapel, I want to highlight some of my views with regards to the Somalia’s famine problem and the current financial crisis. I cannot help but to show my strong feelings of discredit and outrage when reading the headlines in the media and with that that goes on in general in this world we live in. I realize, though, that if I want to talk about what goes on out there the scope of this article is short and biased, but I can’t afford to get lost in a sea of topics and current affairs. Enough time and opportunities I will have to get lost as I post more some other time…As the mission of this blog goes, IdeasdePapel are my personal feelings, my experiences of what happens, my points of view. You, the reader, may or may not agree with them, but I assure you will not be able to remain oblivious, you will not be indifferent the moment you cross this precedent paragraph. This is the reality we live in! How about we start acknowledging it and doing something about it?!
During the past weeks, the three daily papers I mainly follow, Spain’s El País, France’s Le Monde and UK’s The Guardian, focussed their headlines on 5 main topics, in order of ‘relevance’: News International Phone Hacking Scandal, Greece Bail Outs and the Crisis of the Euro, The Tour de France, Amy Winehouse’s sudden death and Norways Horrible Massacre. Of my two favourite weekly papers, The Economist had Berlusconi’s extravaganza in its main page, and in the Courrier International‘s front page I could see the Strauss Kahn, former IMF president, case….
All I could see in the news led me through a myriad of channel to these issues, and if I wanted to see something different then I had to read about sports or turn off the computer and pick up a book, which is what I’ve been doing lately…
It was not until an article by Andrew O’Hagan in the blog ‘Poverty Matters’ and entitled East Africa famine: Our values are on trial which I started to hear about Somalia’s problem and the manipulative news coverage. Only one week ago! I recommend the article, not because of its detailed information, it is quite simple and general, but rather as a face-washing exercise. All I could come up with in my mind was ‘shit, we still don’t get it’. The media coverage of world events, with its exasperating misuse of information technology and its broken-compass approach to news, doesn’t inform us but instead entertains, stupidizes, manipulates us. You really have to be aware, 24/7, and dig deep if you want to find ‘information’ rather than ‘news’. And when you find the information, this is presented as a de facto, fixed, unavoidable reality. Basic questions that matter are not addressed, or else taken as idealistic, naive, or too complex to even think about them, not to mention venture to pronounce them out loud; why is that? how did we get here? or if we know this is the cause, the reason to the problem, why do we continue making the same mistake?
In a world of technology we seem less and less communicated, less informed. Out of the 10 to 15 articles I have read on Somalia, only one initiates, timidly, the question on why are we talking about a famine in Somalia as a one-week all-of-the-sudden- event? How does a famine become a surprise when it is a long-term process? Why did the famine in Somalia suddenly appeared now in the news?
I could go on and on with my questions run: What the hell happens in South East Asia with the floods in Pakistan? Has Japan already recovered from the nuclear problem? Can someone find a succinct, clearly explained guide-article which explains why is still NATO killing people in Afghanistan? Did Brazil and Mexico triumphed in their fight against the narcs? Has Chile cleaned all the ashes? Has BP cleared out and shined the beaches of Florida?
I can find some answers to these issues in the news, off course, but it requires research through the papers, the websites, and the articles’ histories. The front pages are flooded with more catchy topics, not necessarily more current…
But let’s consider Somalia’s famine serious problem and its newly, freshly published coverage in the media. Although I focus on Somalia only, I acknowledge there are famines occurring in other places right now, news just happen to come from over there these weeks… Most of the articles explain how difficult is to get food there because of the role of the Shabab Islamist militia which controls much of southern Somalia and is in battle with the internationally recognised, but week Somali government. Other articles blame that the aid from the UN and the WTO agreements at Doha have failed, once more, in part to “the symptomatic of developed countries’ obsession with not giving too much to emerging economies like China, India and Brazil, an obsession that has been allowed to overshadow the development agenda.” Yet another article asks Why can’t we end famine in Somalia? and calls for long-term development projects to avoid this happening again… Articles on the East Africa famine have soared in the past days and are now in the headlines of every single newspapers. How long will they be there? that’s a matter for the newspapers editors and media agencies…
A quick note on development projects and aid programmes. I am not an expert, and anyone who is knowledgable on the topic will tag me as simplistic and an light-weighted agitator…I agree, but I cannot help to express what I see and I don’t want to wait to be an expert to do so…
We delight ourselves with the well structured, nicely thought out, and broadly approached aid programmes, funds and volunteering projects which come from the developed countries of the international community to save, help, and promote economically, politically, socially and culturally those in the developing countries (note that developed/developing countries are terms I despise utterly, but for reasons of simplicity and reference I use in this blog). We acknowledge these programmes and projects are necessary, we experience they are tangible and some of them even may succeed in their goals, and we even come out with ideas for the continuation and sustainability of such programmes into the future.
Millions, billions, trillions of money, spread among the most ‘dynamic’ currencies of the developed countries, are poured into the developing countries, there where the poor live, to provide them with the material items and foundations of our world; from clothes and accessories through non-perishable food and educational material to technology and infrastructure for key services.
Many of the aid relief programmes and investments in education, sanitation, health and work opportunities, have very good intentions and have demonstrated a serious and compromised change in approach towards root problems in the last couple of years. The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals for 2015 are evidence of a wider, better structured and carefully-managed aid plan which permits to channel help towards those who most need it as well as it makes easier to assess the correct delivery and use of that help into the 8 development goals. The UN work is not the only expression of humanitarian aid from the international community. There are off course the World Bank studies and reports of the regions affected, the IMF credits and investments, and the work of international and local NGOs and volunteering organizations. These efforts should not be diminished, because they are very important. A lot of people work their asses off for this, have faith in their goals and contribute uninterestedly. But these efforts should not be overemphasized either. Like the article quoted above says; how can we still talk about famine in the 21st century? Why, despite, all this aid efforts, we still see these news?
The problem today goes beyond the ‘assistive role’ of some of these efforts and the badly invested, poorly-managed and short-sighted use of the resources and money dispatched to these countries. As I mentioned, there has been an important change in the approach to development (this goes without saying that the problems of aid management, delivery and redistribution have not been eradicated…). It is, perhaps, due to a fundamental flow found elsewhere. So obvious, we don’t see it; so painfully true, we don’t want to assimilate it; and so simple, we continue to dismiss it: Most of these efforts are developed by those who put their emphasis on maintaining the current state of affairs!
Two of the UN MDGs are to eradicate extreme hunger and to reduce child mortality rates in the developing world. It so happens that one of the main obstacles to achieve these two goals is the instability of internationally recognized, but locally feeble and suspected governments which often struggle with the presence of radical and violent groups. The presence of these violent and extremist groups is a serious problem because it represents a major obstacle for NGOs and UN help to reach the affected areas.We know this, the international community knows this… but here it goes again, nobody addresses the fundamental questions: If the UN can’t give food to some parts of Somalia because there are rebels with guns…we should ask why or how do they have guns. Who sells those guns to them? Why? How? Why don’t we change this?
It is always interesting to highlight here a widely known, yet painfully obviated fact: within the UN Security Council those who have veto powers, i.e. decision powers, are USA, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China among other world powers. These are curiously the same world powers with the biggest production of guns and weapons sold to the world…in other words, the world peace, and the security measures and regulations deployed to permit that the international community’s aid reaches those who need it the most, is in the hands of those powers which, as Galeano puts it in its Patas para Arriba: La Escuela del Mundo al Revés, “exploit the big business of war”…
Aid and development efforts are bottle-necked through trade and financial games as well…
The logic of the international trade, as it is nowadays, is maximized production, minimized costs, open markets, high earnings. I am not surprised that when someone writes about the failure of the WTO talks at Doha states that “poor countries are bullied into premature opening of their markets, undermining local producers, while rich countries flout the very rules they claim to uphold” and that, despite repeated apologies, “the current so-called free trade system continue[s] to push for deep and fast liberalisation across the board and to laud the multilateral trading system as the answer to problems as wide-ranging as human rights abuses, climate change and food security.” Shocking, isn’t it? Well, this is, as I see in the news, treated as…normal. Things are this way because…that’s the way they ought to be…
So while the developed world fights hunger and promotes world peace, and many other things through the MDGs, etc, it sells arms and wages wars to fight terrorists and defend the values of democracy? Well some of them, it seems, get lost in their way to world justice… And while it fills up the cup with the virtues and importance of open and free trade, it does so with the fashionable tactic of remaining in control, setting off the alarms at any sign of the slightest ‘over-development’ of small, emerging economies, and with the ability to readjust the rules of the game, just in case something goes wrong…
But I see yet another problem: The so-called developed countries do not seem to be sufficiently developed, economically, socially and politically, to help the already-somewhat developed developing countries. If we are to measure ‘development’ in purely economic terms, there is a massive, really visible and tangible proof for this statement. The countries which provide the help, and the organizations represented by the international community, and some of the ‘good-will’ multinationals entities, have not been, and continue not to be, capable of developing or coming into an agreement to change/restructure/shift the fundamentally-faulted pillars of the current economic system and financial markets: speculation and banktocracy.
The current financial economic crisis that we suffer today has made, at least, two things very clear: First, like Galeano explains, “It is said that astrology was created to give the impression that the economy is an exact science. Tomorrow economists will never know why their previsions for yesterday have not been accomplished.” The quote makes reference to the 1929, 1970 and 1987 financial crisis, would you say they got it right this time? I don’t think so. Second, the world leaders, those in control in politics, in economics and in the media, continue with their own thing. The status quo remains untouched. The world many crises; financial, food, environmental, security, population, health crisis, are approached with a ‘cut the weeds, but don’t touch the roots’ raison d’être.
Lets put this into context now and see what the economic ‘experts’ analyses say, and what the politicians and economists responses and actions towards these issues are. Let’s take for example the Greek crisis and its potential problems with the EU and the international economic system. The focus has been put on a second EU emergency summit and rescue plan to save Greece from defaulting and bailing out the banks again, asking for money to the IMF again, and austerity plans again and harsher this time…I ask is there no other way? Have we not had enough of this already? Can the economic system, financial markets we work/live with be changed or at least reformed in a way that these problems are easier to resolve, reducing the implications on citizens? Are all of these questions stupid questions of mine for which we all know the answers? If yes, then why don’t we answer them?
In all this financial crisis most of the developed countries have responded the same way and maintained the same line of policy: bailing out the banks and speculators which caused these problems; maintaining the IMF, World Bank, and Financial Markets structures (which after several Gs meetings (G5, G20, G3, you name it, they are so Grand) they said they would look into to change…), and, worst of all, they have continued with an epidemic ‘cut the weed, but don’t touch the root!’ approach through social cuts, pension age alterations, health system juggling, educational system refurbishing tactics, tax increases, interest rates increases…
This ill-nourished equations, portrayed as the sole solutions to pay off public debts, has been so horrendously spread and repeated all over the world which does bring the question: what kind of development have these countries achieved for the international community to consider them as ‘developed’?
Not only are citizens of the world misinformed and made responsible for the paying off the public debt through social cuts and welfare-stretching exercises, governments and those in charge fail to realize, or avoid, the source of the problem! While politicians and world leaders pay off public debts from citizens’ contributions and seek to justify why they become socially draconian, they leave the system untouched, so that in a few years time the problem regenerates itself.
Paying off public debt, without touching the financial and economic structures and trade rules which control every aspect of the world economy does two things: a) Nothing, to solve the problem; b) pushes the blame on others, mostly the citizens which in the current state of affairs become rather consumers of a welfare state which is not but a shop of goods which in times of crisis becomes a poll of priviledges luxurious and fancy for some, difficult for many, and unreachable and utopic for most.
And if we turn again to Somalia, or East Africa, or Southeast Asia, or South America…I ask myself, again and again, what kind of help or change can the poor expect or get from a system of developed countries and ethereal, non-accountable institutions and entities which recycle their mistakes every 10-15 years, and on top of that contradicts itself by first acknowledging the problem and then sustaining its basis?
Are we short of ideas for change? or isn’t there really another way? Is it a matter of will? Do I just sit and say to myself ‘That’s it’, and accept that this is the way it is, and let things pass by in front of my eyes?
Hi Juan, Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, I read your post with great interest. I know very little on the subjects of aid, development and the international community. I often use the fact that I know so little as an excuse not to engage in debate, saying that I don’t know enough to contribute or to properly understand the issues. I admire the fact that you have put your thoughts out there and given clear and considered reasons/rationale while also acknowledging that your understanding is in some ways limited or perhaps simplisitc. I know understand a bit more about the issues involved. If everyone keeps quiet for fear of seeming ignorant or not well enough informed these issues will never be discussed and will never see the light of day. Ultimately, I am not sure what we can do to improve the situation. It seems that the more powerful entities/countries have so much investment in maintaining the status quo and I have no idea how we can react against that to make the world a better place. I think the best we can do, as individuals, is to live as compassionately and thoughtfully as we can; to educate ourselves as much as possible by being critical and challenging the information we recieve and our fundamental assumptions about our society, our world. The task of being a socially and morally responsible human being frequently feels overwhelming to me. I wish I were better at it. Thank you for making me stop and think about this and sharing your thoughts so I feel I know a little more on the subject. I would like to read your other posts, but I can’t read Spanish! Almost as an aside: your writing style is really engaging and I am in awe of you. I can only write in my native language, yet you can write so well and with such style in a language not native to you 🙂
Louise Winters (07 August 2011)
“I think the best we can do, as individuals, is to live as compassionately and thoughtfully as we can; to educate ourselves as much as possible by being critical and challenging the information we recieve and our fundamental assumptions about our society, our world.” This is exactly what we need to do. We commence with us, we share ideas and we change the world. Ideas and concepts and ways of living will take a long time, but they will!! And people don’t need to know a lot about anything, just have the will! And you don’t need to be a hippie, a radical, a violent or leftist or rightist, or whatever…you only need to be aware of it and BELIEVE it can change. Thank you for reading ALL the way long article!! And thanks for liking it!! Next issues will be shorter and, God and other religions help me in the task, bilingual!!!
Juan (07 August 2011)