Make Poverty History?


I’m all for Making Poverty History. I think it’d be a marvellous thing if every able person had a job, every child the opportunity of education, every mother antenatal care, every elderly person state aid. I think it’s the least they deserve. I believe that education is the first step towards Africa battling forth out of the mire that holds her back economically and politically.

Gordon Brown thinks so too. In a speech delivered yesterday he said:

Also we have just to build in Africa, so just as we stood side by side with Nelson Mandela to defeat apartheid, I now join Nelson Mandela in asking you to be part of the Education for All Campaign so that the day will dawn soon when 80 million children who do not go to school today because there are no schools for them to go to, will have the basic human right of education. Like people here, I have been in Africa. I have met children who, if given the chance, could be the next Mandela, or the doctor who saves lives, or a teacher who inspires children or a public service worker who cares for people in need. Let us by raising international development aid and by mobilising the world’s resources work together not only to eradicate illiteracy in the coming decade but use the medical knowledge and science that we have to eradicate the killer diseases.

Good for you, Mr Brown; Here Here!

The thing is when you – or Bono – come to Africa you only get shown the bits that the Suits who are driving you around in shiny new Toyota Landcruisers want you to see. 

I doubt you’ve ever been to places like this – where I live, the Outpost – which is so far off the beaten track that for some months of the year it’s inaccessible by road because there is no allowance in the national budget (much of which has been spent on a splendid new office block in the middle of nowhere) to maintain the 60 miles of dirt that take you to it (the Suits certainly aren’t going to subject their gleaming calvacade to the dust and potholes, or themselves to such a tedious trek). And the Outpost is one of dozens like it in Africa. Dark corners you never see for they are not deemed important on any political agenda.

Yet they are still home to thousands.

Thousands of children who want to go to school if only their parents could afford it. Thousands of children whose parents dare not complain when all their children seem to be doing at school is cultivating the headmaster’s fields ahead of the Rains. Thousands of children who’ve never heard of you or your aspirations to Make Poverty History.

Yesterday, in the market, I saw a man eating a papaya like an animal. Greedily scooping out the flesh with hungry gulps, the soft orange pulp was smeared all over his face. The crowds ignored him, giving a politely wide berth as they passed.

Hat noticed him though.

Look at that man, Mum, he must be so hungry to eat his pawpaw like that. And why is he wearing a dress?

Because he’s mad, my darling. Because he’s mad and there’s nobody to care for him and feed him and remind him that because he’s a man he may get laughed at less if he went out in a pair of shorts and not a brown mini dress.

That, Mr Brown, is the Africa you need to see.  Because it counts as much as the rest of the continent.

Even if its a long way off the beaten track. Because it might drive home the reality and the enormity of Africa’s problems. Many of which are hidden from the World for they are simply too ugly to behold.

9 Responses to “Make Poverty History?”

  1. insteadi Says:

    How many times can I say “Here, here”.

  2. mwanafunzi Says:

    inspired by your words they are echos of my letter i sent to Mr Tony Blair two years ago when they had similar sweet words of MAKING POVERTY HISTORY, in his reply, i was sent a whole bundle of report of what has been done, being done and will be done. the only worry that i mentioned in the letter was that they are sending money to wrong people and no accountability of what that money has been used for. the common people do not even know that there was a donation given in their behalf let alone to see a penny of it. until they start engaging with the real poor people on the ground, poverty will still thrive. it is sad cause it seems that what ever they say evaporates quicker than the steam from my grandma’s pot.

  3. R. Sherman Says:

    Unfortunately, as you pointed out in a prior post, the policies of the worthies to alleviate poverty tend to perpetuate it. Combine that with governments which insist upon holding on to economic and social policies which have proven bereft over the last half century and you have the recipe for what we see in Africa.

    This sentence of yours says it all: ” . . .because there is no allowance in the national budget (much of which has been spent on a splendid new office block in the middle of nowhere) . . .”

  4. Iota Says:

    This makes depressing reading. I like to think that the whole aid thing is a bit better than it used to be, though. Would you agree with that at least? I think a lot of the impetus behind writing off developing countries’ debt came from Gordon Brown. I have him down as someone who is doing his best in a complicated world. But it must be frustrating for you, seeing where the need really is and little help arriving.

  5. kifimbocheza Says:

    Make Poverty Wristory. Brown’s government is betting a lot on Tanzania. Despite scandal upon scandal (IPTL, Richmond, the radar, the presidential jet, the twin towers, the Bank of Tanzania scandal, the sale of government housing to civil servants, Mkapa’s dealings as president) his government continues to pour money into Tanzania. And people in the UK and other donor countries remain blithely unaware……

  6. Roberta Says:

    …and I thought the U.S. was in a mess.

    I applaud you!

  7. Carolyn Says:

    Well done. People need to talk about this more and bring it out into the open, if everyone else is ever to understand the sheer complexity and magnitude of this issue. Thankyou.

  8. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    insteadi … thanks. We need more to join in with the whole here here thing. and I don”t know how to do that: writing about it with such bleak honesty can have one down as a cynic.

    mwanafunzi – thing is blair, brown and bono probably have lunch with the ”wrong people” when they are here … no? Well done for writing though. So many people vent their frustration but never put pen to paper.

    Mr Sherman – I am afraid I have repeated myself. It’s just that everytime this issue raises its head in the press I feel such indignation. Words, wristbands, protest marches – they’re all great. But they don’t actually have much impact on the problem at grass roots level.

    No Iota, I don’t think I can agree. And I’m really sorry. That’s not to say that Aid companies don’t mean well. I think lots do. I think that the problem is that alot of aid efforts are managed by people who have little understandings of the machinations of Africa … I see it all the time. Some projects are a success, there’s no doubt, but most end in tears.

    kifimbocheza. That’s clever: wristory. And that the problem: the little people, those who donate money and wear wrist bands only know a tiny part of the story. Like you say, they never hear about nor see the bigger uglier picture. They see the images of hungry children on the telly and that tugs at heart strings and they whip credit cards from wallets. It ‘s criminal to use such imagery, it’s smacks of a con. Not that theré aren’t thousands of needy people – we know there are – just that most of the needy aren’t going to see a penny of it.

    Roberta – oh no, I think beautiful Africa is a bigger one; because those who ought to give a damn, don’t.

    Thank you Carolyn: it’s a big problem. No doubt.

  9. Adriaan Says:

    Anthea – I was going to suggest you write to Bono but then I saw that you have already – perhaps you should get them to change the slogan from Make Poverty History to something as outlined in your letter like Trade with Africa = Made with Africa….basically start a campaign FROM Africa TO the rest of the World instead of the other way round to get your point across….would that work? Salaams.

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