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e-politik.de - Home  Brennpunkt  Europa   Das Europa der Menschen - Living Bridges-Dossier   Europe and the World - Das Europa der Menschen

Autor James Allen, UK

Leave Them Alone

Autor :  e-politik.de Gastautor
E-mail: redaktion@e-politik.de
Artikel vom: 28.08.2000

The legendary Koh-i-Noor is the world's biggest diamond. It sits sweetly inside one of the many crowns of the English Royal family and smiles out at an array of tourists inside the vaults of the Tower of London.

But the Koh-i-Noor was taken from an Indian prince in 1848 during the days of empire, and now India wants it back.
It may prove tricky: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq all stake some kind of claim to it.

But the question arises about Britain's duty to its former colony. Apologies for sins committed generations earlier are now being thrown around willy-nilly. The return of looted treasures would seem to be a logical second step. Then perhaps reparations in full.

As we Europeans sit here in our ivory tower, do we have a duty towards the rest of the world? And if so, how far should that duty extend? Virgil used the word `pietas' to describe Aeneas' sense of duty to the Fates. The Europeans' duty seems to be extending ominously close to pity.

So imperialism is no longer fashionable. We cannot go out there and conquer the Gunga-Dins, so we'll just have to damn well help them. Foreign aid is now a billion dollar industry, supporting extensive advertising and marketing campaigns, and with senior staff and fund-raisers even earning bonuses. Their intentions may be honest and their wills altruistic, but foreign aid has, in many ways, become the new imperialism.

Just as Christian missionaries from Europe did in the 19th Century, many NGOs propagate Western values, whether intentionally or not. The religious ones (known as RINGOs) are obviously guilty/innocent of this, but many supposedly neutral organisations play a similar rôle. A common ambition is to promote women's or children's interests, but when these are defined by Western norms, the consequences for local people can often be disastrous. A report in the Economist earlier this year pointed out that some groups who carry out birth-control projects are in fact paid to carry out sterilisation programmes `because donors in the rich world consider there are too many people there'.

An example, even more shocking, can be found in Southern Sudan. Supposedly well-meaning anti-slavery campaigners had the bright idea of buying children's freedom from their captors. Their action has been condemned by the UN but some American NGOs still carry on. It doesn't take long for even a non-economist to realise that buying slaves is hardly going to discourage people from trading them.

In other cases, foreign aid has been responsible for continuing or complicating wars, where organisations feed armies, shelter hostages or serve as cover for warring parties. The arrival of big international NGOs means the arrival of a lot of baggage: they bring with them western living standards, personnel and purchasing power which can have a dreadful long-term effect on local markets and generate great local resentment. And they promote a distorted image of the white man as a wisened, wealthy healer of woes - a totem that any half-ambitious locals will aspire to follow in the future.

The giving world needs to rethink its giving. All too often, aid comes with a catch. Some decades ago, the British government agreed to fund the building of a damn in Malaysia. In the back rooms, a second deal went ahead which ensured that the Malaysians would buy all of their armaments and military needs from the British. Nowadays, a recipient government may be expected to carry out certain (Western) economic reforms in order to guarantee help. Insisting on good governance is fine, but insisting on a particular economic model is rash and presumptuous.

Therefore our duty must be one that is very narrowly defined: ensure the health and welfare of the world's population purely as far as subsistence. But from that point on, we must swallow our pride, be done of any further action, and leave them alone.

Autor: James Allen, UK


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