Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Giles Bolton, Poor Story

Giles Bolton, Poor Story

What's wrong with Africa?

There are hundreds of answers to this question, depending on who do you wish to blame.  Greedy corporations.  Corrupted African officials.  Inborn laziness and lack of initiative.  Unfortunate environmental conditions.  The list goes on (and on and on...).

I've recently chanced on two books 'explaining' African poverty problem from two quite different perspectives.  Giles Bolton, the author of the first publication, has spent couple of years working as an aid official in Kenya and Rwanda before taking a break to write up his observations and consider his options for the future.  The second book...  ah, but for that you'll need to wait until the next post is published.  Coming soon, I promise!

Bolton's conclusion is, unsurprisingly, that aid doesn't work, at least not in its present form.  The facts remain indisputable:  Africa is the only part of the world that over the last few decades has been steadily getting poorer, despite billions of aid-dollars pumped into the ailing continent.  Why?  While Bolton acknowledges corruption as a factor, the main culprits according to his view are insufficient aid funds and unfair trade arrangements.  He's quite good with providing specific data on various nations' aid expenditure (usually falling well short of self-declared aims) and all sorts of trade-related statistics. 

The main message is more or less this:  the West forces Africa to compete on a drastically uneven playing field.  I don't necessarily agree with all the notions in Poor Story, but overall I found Bolton's arguments convincing.  Hypocrisy, greed, empty promises - yes, that does sound like the Western so-called civilisation as I know it.  Only one of the author's statements really irked me.  The evil multinational corporation, he's saying, is a myth.  Corporations are not evil, they are simply amoral.  Ouch.  An amoeba can be amoral, or a hurricane, not being conscious whether they do good or evil.  Corporations most certainly do not fall into this category.  They know what they are doing - presumably - and should be held accountable for any damage they cause.

Otherwise, Poor Story is a really decent publication.  Despite all the statistics, the book is 100% accessible, written in plain - sometimes even chatty - language, full of anecdotes and little side-stories to lighten the mood.  It does leave slightly bad taste in the mouth (descriptions of human perfidy usually do) but that's not the author's fault. 

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