Creating a More Equitable World PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 26 October 2014 13:31

Last week the Catholic Church made a statement at the UN where they claimed that the 67 richest people in the world had the same amount of wealth as half the population of the world living in poor communities. They went on to say that a billion people lived in absolute poverty.


The furor over Ebola in West Africa this past month has again showed the hypocrisy of the world we live in. I acknowledge that it’s important and that the threat of a global epidemic is present, but as one specialist said, the disease kills so fast that it quickly burns itself out. The death toll of 4500 is miniscule when compared to “normal” deaths due to Malaria, TB, water borne ailments, poverty and hunger and simple exposure to extreme weather.


In Zimbabwe our death toll was about 275 people per day in the period from about 1960 to 1990 but since then has risen to nearly 4 times that due mainly to HIV/Aids but also to associated infections such as TB. Malaria kills 80 people a day here and is totally preventable. The average age of the population of Africa is 15 years, in Japan, the country with the oldest population, it’s 47. Life expectancy in Zimbabwe has declined since 1990 from 63 to 34, levels that were last seen a hundred years ago.


Bad government is a much greater threat to the world and the poor than any communicable disease. It kills many more people than war and disease combined and yet does not receive the kind of attention that it deserves. There are few countries that try to pursue a foreign policy that focuses on the causes of poverty and the need to correct bad government wherever it is found.


As with most critical issues, the Bible is totally realistic about this, “the poor you will always have with you” Jesus said at one time. He then made it very clear that a Christ centered life will always put the needs of the poor first – “he who has two jackets, should give the one to he who has none”. “As much as you do this to the least of my brethren, you do it to me”. To the rich young ruler he admonished, “go sell all you have and give it to the poor, and then follow me”.


But how to create a more equitable world; it is the toughest question. In South Africa and Brazil you have governments whose whole raison d’être is to uplift the poor in their society; instead they have created the most unequal of societies. Instead of narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor, it has grown wider and more pronounced.


It cannot be done on the basis of charity – all that does is demean the recipients and create dependence and destroy initiative. I think that has been proved over and over again. Food Aid, even development aid, is more often than not destructive. We have to attack the problem of poverty and inequality in society on a broad front and rather seek to deal with the fundamentals of daily life in today’s world.


It’s no accident that true democracies seldom go hungry. Somehow responsive governments established on the foundations of a free society, simply perform better that those under dictatorial regimes. A simple comparison of the history of Botswana and Zimbabwe over the past 34 years clearly demonstrates this. It’s not that Botswana has a perfect society or government system – but it has been a real democracy for all this time whilst Zimbabwe has been governed by a technically Marxist regime which has been increasingly autocratic and dictatorial.


The second fundamental is that of the rule of law and the security of each individual and their property. Accumulation, whether it is in the form of a vendor saving to buy a bicycle or a millionaire seeking security for surplus funds, the needs are the same. They need to know that their rights under the law will be upheld by society and the instruments of the law and that when threatened the State will protect and enforce those rights. If this is not possible then accumulation is not possible and surplus income will be hidden or spent to prevent it being taken from the individual.


No one in Africa stood up for the commercial farmers in Zimbabwe when their property and many other constitutional rights, were abused by this regime. Billions of dollars of assets were forcibly taken over and handed out to politically selected individuals and instead of creating thousands of new millionaires the assets simply disappeared and the businesses stopped working and producing. The accumulated wealth of 100 years of hard work and labour has been destroyed and very little remains. The people who created that wealth and assets, are now impoverished and displaced.


The failure to uphold the law and to enforce the rights of the farmers has in fact destroyed the confidence of everyone who has invested in Zimbabwe – no one is secure, no one is saving, no one is investing. If we are not investing then why should anyone outside the country come here and sink their hard earned surplus in a venture in Zimbabwe? It simply does not make sense and they are not investing and all of us are victims.


Then there is the issue of the right to education and health services; the right to clean water and shelter. These are fundamental and when they are not addressed we condemn billions of people to a life of dependence and desperation. Nothing is more empowering than an education and more than anything else we should be making it possible for every child to go to school, not a dusty gathering under a tree somewhere, but a proper school with qualified teachers and electricity and internet access.


We need to ensure that every family has the opportunity to own their own home – no matter how it’s constructed. People must own the resources they are using to support their families essential needs, they must be able to accumulate their surplus with security. When disaster strikes, they must have access to health services – just look at the social conditions in West Africa, revealed by the Ebola crisis. Because it threatens our world, we rush in with emergency resources and cameras. Once the infection is dealt with and we are again safe behind our high walls and impenetrable borders, we can relax and forget the images of those shacks and the human misery and deprivation they reveal.


Dictatorial regimes do not want education for their people; they do not want settled secure communities living in their own homes. They want their people dependent on charity – their charity and permission. They want patronage and reward to be the keys to safety and security, not freedom and enterprise. Until we are able to meet these primary needs and to satisfy these fundamental rights, the problems created in our world by inequality and poverty will never be addressed.


Eddie Cross

Bulawayo, 25th October 2014


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