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Challenging Africa (2)

How can foreign agencies and governments, including China, really help Africa? In the second section of a two-part interview, Poppy Toland talks to Wangari Maathai.

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Poppy Toland: You mention that environmental sustainability was low on the list for the Millennium Development Goals. You see it more suitably placed as the central goal from which other goals all radiate. How could this be done?

Wangari Maathai: The truth of the matter is that the seventh development goal is the environment. When you look at all the other related development goals, they can only be realised if you have a good environment – if you have a healthy environment, if you have clean drinking water, if you have food secure, if you have security.

If you use the Green Belt Movement model as an example, we say if you take care of the environment and if you take care of the land, you can give yourself food, and if you are eating the right food, 50% of your health is taken care of. If you are drinking clean drinking water, another part of your health problems are taken care of. If you are eating well, and you are living in a clean and healthy environment, you are more likely to feel that your child – your unborn child – is going to be born healthy. In the Green Belt Movement, if you plant trees and you make them survive we give you a financial income; we give you a financial token of appreciation. If we were the government, we could make that income much higher. Once you have money, you can send your children to school and you can buy them books, you can buy them a uniform. If they are sick, you can take them to hospital. So, by taking care of the environment you can reduce your poverty.

PT: How easy is it to convince people of this as a priority?

WM: I hope that they will read about it. […] When people think about the Millennium Development Goals, they think poverty, because that’s what they see. They forget that poverty is a symptom of what has gone wrong in the environment. People in general, development agencies, tend to deal with symptoms. They don’t want to go to the root cause of the problem.

PT: Is that because they aren’t seeing the problem for what it is?

WM: I think it’s just the way they look at issues: they go out to solve problems. I’ll give you an example: if you want to give people clean drinking water, you go to the river and you find out that the river is laden with silt. So the water is soiled, it is red with silt. What you think about is how to clean the water, so you look for filters to clean the water, instead of going upstream to find out where the soil is coming from. If you want to remedy this you should plant vegetation on the sloping areas where the silt is coming from: go to the root of the problem and remove the problem. If you are sick, it is not enough to get an aspirin, that’s a temporary cure. Go to the root of the problem: know why the person is sick and remove the germ that is causing the symptoms that you see. It’s simple, but we don’t think like that, we tend to deal with the symptom rather than the root causes.

PT: When you discuss foreign aid agencies, you also talk about China and its increased involvement in Africa. It is sometimes perceived as a negative thing in the west. How is this relationship perceived in Africa?

WM: I can think of two aspects: a positive aspect and a negative aspect. I have been an advocate of better governance in Africa for very long time – and someone who was constantly telling the western world not to continue to support dictators and repressive regimes in Africa, because their support and the sources they get from them will be used to continue suppressing people. It is only after the fall of communism that we started seeing the west lift the grip they had on African countries, and allow them to be free and allow democratic processes to take root in Africa. Before that, they had their grip, because it was a competition between the west and the east. At that time, those of us who were advocating for greater democratic space were constantly telling the western governments not to support those governments, not to give them aid, not to give them loans, to demand accountability, to demand respect for human rights. In other words, to put conditions on what you are doing with them, so they can allow their people to be freer. With the disappearance of communism, that has become unnecessary, because the western countries have released them. But now comes China, and China can deal with the African governments without regarding any conditionalities, and that means that governments can behave as they please. They don’t have the western “Big Brothers” now – looking and asking questions. To me, that can be bad for many African governments and many African people whose governments decide that they don’t have to be accountable to anybody, because they can get things done with China without worrying about the repercussions.

So, what can you do about China? Very little really, because again I would have to go back to the leadership issue: it’s the African people – if they don’t want to help their people, China will probably say, “I’m not accountable to the people, I’m doing business. It is the governments that are accountable to their people.”

But that is the bad part of it. The good part of it is that they’re bringing new business and they are bringing a lot of work there, and it is a very good thing that they are doing business with Africa. But I also think that we are still in the middle of the struggle for a freer Africa, an Africa where leaders are accountable to their people, where they protect their resources. When you think of a country like Sudan, for example, where you have communities that are fighting over oil, even over grazing land, you would hope that China would be concerned about the atrocities that are taking place in a country like that. But China may decide, “That’s not my problem, that’s the problem of the Sudanese government.” […] Of course, that is what the government of Sudan want: to do business with a country that doesn’t interfere with what they call “internal affairs”. Yet it is very important for all of us interfere with internal affairs, when “internal affairs” means terrorising the lives of citizens.

PT: Can Africa rise up when aid is still being given?

WM: I know that this is the theme of a book that recently came out. I think that Dambisa Moyo has a point in the case she is putting forward, in that African governments should not be given aid by other governments, because they are not using it properly, they have been given so much and they can’t show anything for it.

My assessment would be that this might not be helpful. I would rather ask the African people why they have to be punished by other governments before they can be good to their people. That’s the question I would ask to them, because we do need help. We do need aid. Even rich governments borrow. Doesn’t the American government borrow from China? What is important is that the money that is borrowed is used for the purpose for which it was borrowed. The billions of dollars that were given to Africa, if they were analysed to see what they were actually used for, we would probably be shocked to see the amount that actually arrived in Africa. Now, who is responsible for that? It is partly the African people, because they allowed that to happen. For me, the challenge is really in the African people: if African governments are not supported, it’s not as if they will sacrifice their own resources to help their people – they will probably let their people die, if they can’t give them what they can give them with aid. I’m not advocating that they should be given aid and use it as they please, but we need to challenge the African people and the African leadership, to use resources for they are meant for. I want to ask them: do you have to be whipped by another government before you can be good to your people?

I hope my book will be read by ordinary Africans, because ordinary Africans are also to blame, because they allowed that to happen. They allow themselves to elect leaders who are very irresponsible – so, to a certain extent, they are responsible for the leaders they get. The book is supposed to be a challenge for Africa, because for so long we blamed others: we say it is colonialism, we say it is this or that. In this book, I say we challenge ourselves. Because I was working in the trenches for more than 30 years and I did not see any outsiders blocking me from doing what I needed to do. It was my own people who were blocking me. It was an African government who was blocking me. I didn’t see outsiders, so I know that the enemy of Africa, first and foremost, is Africa. And that is where we must break the cycle.


Poppy Toland is a freelance writer based in London.

Wangari Maathai is a Kenyan environmental and political activist. In 2004 she became the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.



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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

达尔富尔问题

达尔富尔地区内乱不止的根源在于生态恶化,阿拉伯人与黑人对土地、水和石油展开争夺,导致了数十年的流血冲突。
有人认为中国政府重利忘义,为了获得石油资源而支持独裁政府,不顾当地人民的生死,这种指责是不对的,从实质上讲这是有些国家企图攻击中国,压低中国在非洲上升的影响力而制造的言论。

The Darfur issue

The endless internal crisis in the Darfur region roots in the deteriorating ecology, and thus leading to decades of bloodshed amid the fighting for land, water and oil between the Arabians and Africans. Some think China values interests but ignores its own responsibilities, as they regard China supports dictatorship in the pursuit of oil resources, without showing any concern for the life matters of the locals. Such criticism is invald. In fact, the emergence of such comment is because some countries intend to weaken China, containing China's growing influences in Africa.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

是否应给政府援助?

看来马塔伊女士对政府的作为相当不满,政府肆意挥霍掉外国的援助,而不是用这些资金来造福民众。的确,腐败是一个大问题啊。

Shall foreign aid be given to the government?

Ms Maathai seems to be rather disagreeable with the deeds of the government. The government recklessly spent the foreign aid, without using it for the well-being of the people. Indeed, corruption is a big question.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

充当代理人的中国

在尼日利亚的西部(约鲁巴),我的祖先有句谚语说: “Bao reni bala ola kiya boro”,意为:每个人都需要
依靠别人建立关系,不然就不能及时地得到帮助。

虽然我可以说我不是一个非洲人,但我感到非常激愤,很难平静地接受现实。

什么样的农民会说因为蔬菜太贵了,所以他的家人不会吃蔬菜。我认为最好是这样来问农民:‘先生,你农场里的大片土地是用来干什么的?’

西方国家尽量使非洲人的生活变得更好,因为他们从那里进行了掠夺。尽管非洲被掠夺殆尽,但仍然有着许多共同点,如教育,文化等。

他们在非洲不是做力所能及的应做之事,反而抱怨领导不善、腐败、治安不好和叛乱不断。大多数西方国家的眼睛都盯在巴勒斯坦,甚至驻巴勒斯坦的记者比在在整个非洲大陆更多呢。

自对外开放后,中国的互联网飞速发展起来,对商品的需求也在大大增加。

DRAGON THE SURROGATE

DRAGON THE SURROGATE

My forefathers in the Western part of Nigeria (Yoruba) has a proverb which says, “Bao reni bala ola kiya boro” The simple meaning; everyone needs someone to get connections if not, getting connections won’t come in time.

Even I had all it takes to say I’m not an African, the blood in me is too hot to be cold to accept my situations.

What kind of farmer will say because vegetable is too expensive that’s why his family will not eat, I think the best question for the farmer will be hello sir, what are you doing with the huge land at your farm?

The West has all it takes to make life better for Africans because they have taken from them and despite of all they’ve taken, they still share many things in common such as education, culture etc.

Instead of doing the right thing in Africa when they have all it takes to do it, they were complaining of bad leadership, corruption, lack of security and rebellion. Most of Western efforts were totally focused on Palestine; even there are more journalists on ground In Palestine than the whole continent of Africa.

Since China opened his door to the world his networks continue growing so do needs for commodities