Wednesday, 12 April 2006

warfare and wildlife, and missionaries

One of the problems that biologists have is reconciling empiricism, with the world we live in, and the ethics of modern society. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sphere of conflict and war. I should make my own position clear. Morally and politically I am a pacifist. However, as a naturalist, I observe animals, and man, as an animal engages in intraspecific competition, which often culminates in warfare. The disturbing thing about this is that based on all the available evidence, this is the natural state of affairs.

Long-term peace, in human populations, is abnormal, rather than normal, and has always been so. At low population densities, relative peace is usually established, depending on the obvious factors such as allocation of resources. But as soon as resources become scarce, and inequalities start to emerge, and populations grow, then warfare, be it tribal or national, starts to become the norm. This is a fact that few politicians seem to recognise, and few aid agencies accept when developing strategies. If warfare and conflict is accepted as being normal behaviour, then it becomes an absolute essential to work on the causes, if one is trying to solve the problems of the results. And this is something I see little or no evidence of aid charities ever even considering. Actually, that is not entirely right, since I did note that Oxfam do have projects relating to land rights in Africa -- probably an essential step forward for preventing environmental degradation, and also one that helps prevent conflict.

On the broader issues, while reflecting on the way relief and other forms of aid are delivered, I am increasingly of the opinion that much of the foreign aid, particularly in Africa is a 21st century form of colonialism. Imposing the values and aspirations of the northern hemisphere on the south. There seems to me to be very little difference between modern aid, and the evangelist missionaries of a century ago. Both destroy traditional cultures, both create dependency, both create markets for imported goods. Just as our grandparents felt good when they gave a few shillings to send missionaries to save their souls, too many people give a few pounds top salve their own consciences, without thinking about the long-term consequences.

I am certainly not saying I know the answers, but I do know that most of the aid does not have long term benefits. Even worse, it is often absolving governments of taking responsibility for their own shortcomings. Because, in reality, most African governments could provide far more money than Live Aid and similar charitable activies raise, if only they stopped buying arms from Britain and other rich countries, and they stopped the outflow of capital. Buying cows for African farmers, and digging more wells is a short term solution that will invariably create long term problems. Sending old clothes, creates a demand for designer labels, which in turn creates another dependency, as well as exporting capital to the northern hemisphere.

One of the problems concerning aid is that it is extremely difficult to get honest evaluations. All donor agencies, be they government, intergovernmental, or NGOs always tend to write up projects as successes. If all the millions of dollars, pounds and euros spent on aid have financed so many successful projects, how come Africa is in such a mess?

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