Aid and Other Dirty Business: How Good Intentions Have Failed the World's Poor by Giles Bolton
|Aid and Other Dirty Business: How Good Intentions Have Failed the World's Poor by Giles Bolton
|Category: Politics and Society
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy
|Summary: A lucid and cogent unravelling of Africa's problems together with a revealing commentary on the way globalisation also affects people in the West. If you're looking for a detailed primer on the difficulties and how you can best approach confronting them, you couldn't do better.
|Date: July 2008
Africa. It has vast beauty and abundant resources, yet it's the world's poorest continent. More than a third of Africans live on under a dollar a day. Earth's twenty-five poorest countries are in Africa. More mothers die in childbirth than anywhere else in the world. Fewer children make it to their fifth birthdays. AIDS is ravaging the entire continent.
But why is this? And why doesn't it seem to be getting any better, despite government pledges and mass popular campaigns, such as Make Poverty History?
Well, the reasons, of course, are many. As anyone can tell you, it's hard to get back from being broke. You can't invest. In simple terms - magnify the unemployed person lacking the train fare to attend a job interview by every person and institution in almost every country across an entire continent, and it's easy to see that Africa needs help. Added to this, you have an environment of conflict, stoked by the woes of unrepresentative national boundaries left by departing colonial powers. You have unstable and sometimes corrupt governments partly due to that environment of conflict. You have few skilled workers because of patchy education, and the ones there are often decamp to pastures new.
You have ineffective and inappropriate aid because the world lacks effective global governance. You have old debts. You have unfair trade regulations, restricting Africa from the world market, but making it a dump site for overproduction by the West. And you may be surprised to learn that your grocery bills at the supermarket are inflated by the very same regulations that are so stymieing Africa. It's costing you money too.
And honestly, that's just the start.
But before you throw your hands in the air, feeling unempowered and hopeless about it all, wait up. This clearly argued, lucid and approachable book addresses all the points I've just made and more, and it also addresses your feeling of powerlessness in the corporation-dominated world you find yourself. If you want to know why Africa is so poor - without being harangued by those on either end of the political spectrum - and if you want to understand the balance of the forces in play, and if, most of all, you don't want to feel helpless, then you should read Aid and Other Dirty Business.
Bolton clearly explains the different kinds of aid, the different institutions offering it, and the barriers to its effectiveness. He also argues that though, in some ways, traditional democracy and government has been weakened by globalisation, individual power hasn't disappeared; it's moved. As a consumer, you have as much power over a corporation as you do over government as a voter. So you can do something about these issues.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I'm not a newcomer to the issues it presents, but it's so well thought out and structured it genuinely helped me refine my thinking. Bolton's background in the Department for International Development certainly illuminated a few things for me and I had to think again about some of my entrenched positions. That's always a good thing. Bolton remains a trifle wedded to the purity of the market (that is to say, a market once unfair subsidies and tariffs have been removed) for my liking, but that's a personal view, and certainly not one that detracts from the lucid and cogent arguments he presents.
Africa could be so much more. It should be so much more. Make a decision to do what you can to help it on its way and read this book.
My thanks to the nice people for sending the book.
Heart of Darfur by Lisa French Blaker will give a you a personal account of the difficulties of providing emergency aid, while The Shock of the Old by David Edgerton uses the world's poor, including the poor in Africa, to show you technology in a completely different way.
Aid and Other Dirty Business: How Good Intentions Have Failed the World's Poor by Giles Bolton is in the Top Ten Non-Fiction Books To Make You Think.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Aid and Other Dirty Business: How Good Intentions Have Failed the World's Poor by Giles Bolton at Amazon.com.
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