European pretense

photo of africa from space
Africa as seen by NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory one million miles from Earth

I am not pleased with all my early efforts as a blogger and I am sometimes reluctant to visit that earlier version of myself. I felt a bit like that today when I browsed my stats to discover that someone had read a three year old post on my Norwegian blog, My initial thought was something like this: Oh no! What didn’t I know in 2013 that I know today. I am not embrassed about my opinions, but I suspect I get better at presenting my thoughts as I get more experience.

It turned out the text was better than I feared, and I probably wouldn’t have made that many changes to it today. The New Africa was about a TV-programme I had just watched that raised an interesting question.

I had missed most of the programme, but the last ten minutes had enough interesting information. The programme was called The New Africa and they were talking about the development in Malawi and Rwanda, which are both success stories, and both countries are being criticised by the West. Farmers were not accustomed to using fertilizers, but after the Malawi government launched a programme for increasing the use of fertilizers, the food production increased. That, together with subsidising grain has given people better lives, but they have been criticized for this too. The argument is that it’s not the market deciding the grain prices, but this criticism doesn’t make any sense.

This reminds me of a wider environmental debate. The West has almost polluted the world to death and we need to be careful about what we do next, but one of the reasons it’s so hard to agree on anything when the UN debate climate changes, is because poor countries are basically told that they need to suffer for the mistakes we have done. They can not have economic growth by doing the things we have been doing since the industrial revolution, but we can continue.

The programme also talked about Rwanda, and just twenty years after the genocide that killed 800 000 people, things are looking better. The journalist interviewed a woman that had been educated in a Western country, but she moved back to help rebuild the country. She had an interesting comment to the accusation that Rwanda didn’t have freedom of speech. She said that Holocaust is still a very sensitive topic in Europe almost three generations after the war. She has a point. Germany hasn’t really dealt with World War II,  Sweden hasn’t talked about their close ties to the Nazis during their socalled WW II-neutrality, no one is talking about the Israeli Holocaust-card, and if we go farther back the USA still hasn’t shown any remors concerning the treatment of African Americans and Native Americans. Most of the criminals and survivors are still alive after the war in Rwanda, and she thought it was natural that they had a similar sensitivity to their own recent past. She doesn’t seem to be wrong.

The point I wanted to make is that these two countries have made significant progress precisely because they didn’t listen to advice from Western governments and the World Bank. The Africans are probably the most abused people on the planet. When we can show that we have evolved, that we have perfect democracies, we may criticize. We may not like the way Africans run their countries, but what if they succeeed in their main objective, feeding their own people?

What happens when they have accomplished that, if they haven’t already? When they can feed their own population they will be wanting to export an increasing amount of food. Are we going to let them enter the world market? That’s how easy and hard it is to help Africa. Are we going to help Africa as much as we have helped Israel? I think Africa would be in a very different situation by now if we intended to be honourable. We need to let African countries produce the goods we want to buy. If there is oil in Africa they don’t need American and European oil companies; they need their own. If we really want to help we should make that happen, and accept a lower growth in the West. That’ll hurt ourselves of course, but it’s the right thing to do.

Norway is not an EU-member, but we are paying quite a few billion to have some of the benefits of membership. When I was growing up we didn’t have these benefits and as a consequence fish farmers from EU-countries could accuse Norwegian authorities of subsidising the salmon industry. The truth was that Norwegians farms could have low prices as this is a really big industry in Norway, but every time this happened the Norwegian companies had to live with a penalty tax that fish farmers inside the EU didn’t have.

It wasn’t fair. It made it harder to make a profit, but as far as I know it didn’t put anyone out of business. This is probably a lot more relevant to small farmers in Africa and Asia. Farmers inside the EU get a lot of their income from generous EU-subsidies, and according to this article fro subsidies make out 55 percent of total income from farming in Britain.

It hardly sounds fair if we expect African countries to feed their own population without subsidies and fertilizers. Then we are back to the lesson my soccer coach tried to teach us in my teens. He told us not to do what he did, but what he said. Nothing much has changed since Africa became independent and according to Oxfam International multinational companies cheat Africa out of billions of dollars. We may appear to be a coach just wanting to help the players to avoid the mistakes we did, but it sounds to me that we are not exploiting less than we used to. The only difference is that it’s companies and not governments doing the stealing today. Governments do it indirectly because they send soldiers when there are commercial interests to protect.

Africa has been more noticable on the music scene in recent years. This is a song by the Ghanaian singer Sarkodie. He criticizes the Western values that make many Africans want to leave their own continent, and the fact that many Ghanaians support the European pretense. I can’t comment on what goes on in Ghana, but he does have a point about the weakness of our culture. It reminds me of a conversation my wife was telling me about once.

She was going to the Norwegian course that all immigrants have to complete. A Nigerian man was talking to my wife and another American. He was dreaming of going to the USA, but couldn’t understand why everyone wanted to go there if it was as difficult to be poor as they described. The short answer is, immigrants don’t know the truth. Going to Europe or the USA is not going to make you rich, and it probably won’t matter how hard you are willing to work. It’s worth it if you are really poor, because being poor here might be better than being poor there, but life isn’t necessarily better. Our society can be quite cold and I’m not only talking about the weather. I wish wealth was spread more evenly, but we have some ways of life that Africans could do much better without.

I am sorry to say that many Norwegian recruiters don’t want to employ Africans just because they are Africans (42 percent of them are employed in Norway compared to 70 percent of immigrants from Western Europe). I hope Africans feel welcome, but Norwegians are lying when they say there is no racism here. They are certainly lying when they say that life here is complete happiness.


If you want to read more about African hip hop  I recommend the article Hip Hop as Social Commentary in Accra and Dar es Salaam by Msia Kibona Clark.

Democracy seems to have had some issues in Rwanda that the programme didn’t go into. The country has experienced growth and political oppression at the same time, and clearly organizations like Democracy in Rwanda Now are needed. There is till extreme poverty, so the picture isn’t quite as idyllic as this TV-programme claimed, but then again I wouldn’t call my European democracy perfect either.

One thought on “European pretense

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s