Thursday, September 6, 2012

When Poverty Becomes a Myth (Part 1)

The series of essays "When Poverty Bcomes a Myth" aims at drawing attention towards the flaws of our current approaches to the global challenge of poverty. Though the economic, political, humanitarian and social strategies to counter poverty proliferate, the results remain the greatest witness of their recurrent failures. Throughout the series of short articles I will be publishing, you'll find a comprehensive set of recommendations and general proposals which appeal more to the common sense rather than to our understanding of the intricate mechanisms of politics, economis and society.

Political Reforms & Good governance

Poverty is far from being an offspring of resources shortage alone, it is truly the legacy of a far greater disaster looming over the globe: Corruption!
Looking back at the African continent with which we associate socio-economic backwardness, the resources in there are far from being scarce, and the oil, diamond, gold and agriculture are few aspects of the wealth present in profusion. What undermines these resources is not the lacking human wealth either, it is far and foremost the political leadership and centers of command whose manipulation of the nations’ production is all but wise and guided.

The case of Equatorial Guinea is a flamboyant case of African oil rich nations crippling under poverty due to corruption and political tyranny. As reported by the Global Witness:

“In 2011, Global Witness reported that his flamboyant son Theodorin Obiang commissioned a personal super-yacht with a handsome price tag of $380 million, worth three times the country’s combined budget for health and education.”[1]

The case pleads for a prioritization of anti-corruption measures as a pre-requisite for poverty fighting. The state restructuration through the elimination of centers of powers is a prominent step towards fair distribution and exploitation of resources, but looking deeper into the cultural aspects of African Politics, there is a key feature to explore: the culture of fear.

African politics is always tainted with political figures with unlimited powers, in most cases tyrannical and in few barbarians. The genocides and group massacres led by government militias and presidential paramilitary troops are common currency, and the people’s responses are a scarce commodity. It is indeed unthinkable to still picture African states where rulers dominate a disgraced populace in the 21st century, a century where democracy, human rights and grassroots movements are weighing variables in the world political chess-game.

Once a nation is unchained from political constraints and totalitarian leaderships, the prospects for growth, economic expansion and welfare state building follows in an inherently natural process. This process is moreover self-sustaining: under democratic state building and governance, the wealth distribution and market liberalism alleviates socio-economic constraints and encourages progress through renovating education which produces efficient, productive and values’ bearers’ citizen who make up the future democratic political frame of the nation.

Though internal political reforms impact directly domestic governance, it facilitates as well development through the resistance of foreign operating parties. African dictatorships have never survived without foreign assistance, be it military, financial or logistical. The same democracies who denounce genocides and human rights violations through the state spokesmen are those who operate the military industrial complex and the financial institutions which provide war criminals throughout the world with the necessary weapons and financing. A true democracy thus allows the wider audiences to question, monitor and assess state performance and stand against narrow profitable relations between state officials and foreign operators. But where does Investment appear in the process of Political democratization?

A tyrant in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia or in the heart of Africa is all but promised for a stable future. Autocracies lay the path for instability and high risks in the long term, thus pushing away investors whose speculations on the value of their assets deems them unprofitable if invested in a nation with potential turmoil in the backyard. The case of Iran, Iraq and several Sub Saharan African nations exemplifies the case: why would banks, multinationals, sovereign funds and individuals put their money in projects that are not guaranteed to last in cases of military coups, wars or social unrests? The high risk investments have proven to be a fashion few years ago, but with the fallouts of the financial crisis, the world post-2008 is far from getting back to the custom of high risk – high benefit ventures.

To be continued...
Mohamed Amine Belarbi

[1] Global Witness, “Son of Equatorial Guinea’s dictator plans one of world’s most expensive yachts.” Press release, 28 February 2011.

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