Sunday, August 17, 2008
Africa - The Ghetto That Is Colonized By The United Nations
I subscribed to Comcast cable about a year ago in order to gain access to "The Africa Channel" that run upon their system. I had been watching the news about the planning and launch of "The Africa Channel" since its inception. I was very interested in learning more about the internal details of the African continent but such news sources were sparse. Where as various existing channels provide news and business information about Asia and Europe, news about Africa was limited to the conflicts and the miseries there.
A year into the evaluation of "The Africa Channel" the most valuable channel in my view is "The UN World Chronicle Show". This is valuable but not for all the right reasons. Where as the other shows produced from Africa which are shown on the channel feature various news and entertainment pieces - "The UN World Chronicle" is the voice of the OVERLAY GOVERNMENT of the African continent.
"Overlay Government?" you might ask. Yes indeed. It appears that the United Nations has more peacekeeping forces in Africa than on any other continent in the world. The "UN Chronicle" brings forth POLICY MAKERS and allows them to present their perspective on how to fix problems around the world. It stands to reason then that since the UN is so deeply embedded in Africa that much of its policy pronouncements are about Africa as well.
This week's episode of "The UN World Chronicle" was about the importance of empowering women as a means of achieving population control. The argument is that as women get the right to control their reproductive choices and are able to decline sex from their mate - that this is the sign of a society that will allow their women to receive a higher order of education, that does not have unsustainable population growth and thus society as a whole is better off. I accept much of this argument in that we in America are living within such a society of reference.
The problem that I have with the general discussion from this particular episode of the show is that the OUTSIDERS from the United Nations were executing their policies that were crafted in the plush offices of the UN Headquarters in New York City and are now spreading them throughout Africa. It is interesting that while these same places are called "vulnerable" in regards to certain forces of terrorism and economic exploitation due to their lack of strong central governments........it stands to reason that these same places are also "vulnerable" to the exploits of the United Nations and the policies they wish to bring forth.
This hit home to me during the conversation about condom distribution in Uganda. This was the famous "ABC Program". (Abstain, Be Faithful, Use Condoms) This program has successfully curtailed the growth of HIV infections in this particular country. One of the show's hosts said something that was particularly disturbing to me. (Side Note: Even though the "UN World Chronicle" has a web site of archived shows - they stopped posting them beyond the 2006 broadcast season. I will save this particular segment of the conversation to YouTube and update this blog entry later)
On the subject of Uganda one of the shows host said something to the effect of:
"In Uganda where the 'ABC program' is a showcase for success in controlling HIV infections there is currently a condom shortage. The Ugandans are blaming this problem on the West for failing to insure that they have enough condoms to keep the program going".
STOP RIGHT THERE!!! Let's analyze this sentence.
Who is the BENEFICIARY of the 'ABC Program'?: Answer - the Ugandans
What are they asked to do in the control of HIV? Answer - Have more responsible sex
Since we are discussing 'government to government' relations why is it that the Ugandan government sees the WESTS 'failure' to supply FREE CONDOMS as the fault of the West?
A new feature of my evaluation of certain policies is the analysis of the TRANSACTION that takes place between two parties that are assumed to be EQUAL. It stands to reason that transactions between PEERS involve a mutual transfer of value - if the EQUAL PEER assumption is to be substantiated. (Otherwise we have a charitable exchange).
So we see that the West and the United Nations provided both CONDOMS and the constructs of the 'ABC Program' to the nation of Uganda. What I am not so clear about is what the UGANDANS have given to these two organizations in the context of the transaction.
Some would argue that they gave the world fewer HIV cases and also evidence that the program works. Sorry - this is not a tangible or hard benefit that flowed the other way. As always there was reference to Uganda being a POOR NATION and thus the assumption that they are not able to take care of themselves was the prevailing sentiment going into the deal.
Thus at the end of the conversation I got the feeling that the people of Uganda were simply constituents or clients of the United Nations. The government of Uganda is like a "Residents Association" that could be found in any American housing project in their relation to the real authority - the United Nations. Their job was to accept and implement the policy that was derived from on high, making a few tweaks along the way.
So you might be asking "What difference does it all make as long as HIV INFECTION RATES ARE DECLINING?". This question misses the broader point. The reason why HIV and other problems are a major problem in these nations is because they lack the ORGANIC means by which the local government can express such policies through the channel of a functioning and transparent government, using people who have the appropriate education and, most importantly with a prevailing group of people who see the need to change as the primary means of adopting such policies. In summary all of this is a question of AGENCY with me.
The "salvation" metaphor works best here. How can the United Nations seek salvation for a group of people unless they are central players in the process of their own salvation? Instead they seem to be clients in the process of transformation. Like so many other outside interventions those programs to "prime the pump" until it can run on its own often become the installation of a permanent dependency.
That which I see here is that which I see in West Philadelphia USA. A group of people who are all but disconnected from a system that would lead to their full development as a people - both on the consumer side as expressed by them living at a "higher standard of living" and on the supply side with them being the primary vehicle which are providing the goods and services to the (functionally) closed system of consumption that they operate in.
Instead of this system of self-sufficiency it is far more common to see the altruistic outsiders being pacified with the community being in a state of RECEIPT OF THE BENEFITS. Thus, in this case, if the HIV infection rate is totally in check and the United Nations outsiders did 95% of the work......it is still a community that is no longer ravaged by HIV infections.
Key questions to ask:
* What organic problem solving skills did the community develop during this process?
* If a new crisis comes along but the United Nations is not available or is resource constrained to give it their full attention - what happens to the clients? Where as the UN as a global organization has to prioritize its list of problems to focus on - if the client's problem is not high enough on the list are they forced to LOBBY THE UN FOR RESOURCES.....or are they empowered to TAKE IT UP THEMSELVES in pursuit of their own interests? These are sovereign nations we are speaking of - or are they?
All of this calls into question the underlying mission of the African Diaspora. Are we seeking EQUAL STANDING around the world as evidenced by our STANDARD OF LIVING (and LEGAL RIGHTS) that we consume or are we on a mission of seeking EQUAL STANDING as evidenced by our ability to PRODUCE SUCH AN EQUAL OR SUPERIOR STANDING based on the SYSTEMS that we are able to create to express it?
I can't help but to notice that the United Nations is entrenching itself in to places where it is most needed BUT ALSO in places that have the least amount of organized government to tell it "NO we don't like all of the downside dependencies that you create".
In closing, do not get me wrong, I am not one who makes the case that "We don't need no outside help", letting people suffer in the wake of such fundamentalism. I AM saying that too often short term receipt of benefit because of an emergency many times substitutes for long term course correction. Thus we have a series of SHORT TERM CRISISES who's responses to address them becomes the prevailing government culture. Never does the place do PLANNING where their macro course correction itself immunizes them from these series of crisises.
The collection of people are WEAKENED as a result.