A few years ago, I was being driven south to the coast from a hospital in the town of Makeni in Sierra Leone, when I suddenly noticed a brand-new railway line paralleling the road. I asked the driver where it was going. “Beijing” he replied. It is a puzzle why Africa, dotted with Chinese construction sites and Chinese investors of one sort or another, was late in catching COVID-19. More likely that China shut down travel early so that Africa’s relatively few diagnosed infections came first from Europe.
Some optimists suggested that COVID-19 doesn’t like a temperature of 31C. But what about Philippines, Australia, India? In Africa the rainy season ushers in the onset of malaria and its high fevers. More likely the onset wasn’t that late - weak health services have been poor at identifying the presence of the disease in amongst other respiratory infections. Senegal has 1 doctor for 10,000 people, Italy 41.
It is right to fear for Africa during the coronavirus pandemic though Sierra Leone has some advantages over other countries. When I visited Freetown’s main medical centre, the Connaught Hospital, I was impressed by its cleanliness and clinical professionalism compared to many African hospitals, but also by the relative absence of medical equipment. On the plus side Sierra Leone has some outstanding doctors, nurses and a battle-hardened Ministry of Health.
Sierra Leone’s government health record is good. It has managed to bring in free maternal and child health care, and to reduce malaria deaths, working with religious leaders to educate people on the causes of malaria and how to prevent it. Of course, it also experienced an Ebola outbreak, another even more terrifying invisible killer, and during the civil war, the visible lethal armed variety. So the people of Sierra Leone have already faced the agony of being deprived of the normal way of caring for the sick and burying their dead. They may be better prepared culturally for responding to the pandemic than some Londoners.
Malaria may seem to be an irrelevance in the face of an Ebola or COVID-19 assault on a population. Not so. Researchers have found that levels of HIV rise in patients suffering from malaria. It is as if the immune system has been diverted or weakened by centuries of combating the malaria parasite. This finding matters particularly in pregnant women because the presence of malaria increases placental transmission of HIV to the baby in the womb.
A further danger of malaria emerged in the Ebola crisis. Until rapid diagnostic kits were more widely distributed by the WHO, patients with malaria were sometimes sent off to Ebola centres for triage and dying as result of the initial misdiagnosis. Widely available and rapid testing for COVID-19 is going to be vital. Although deaths from malaria worldwide have reduced from a million in the last two decades to an estimated 425,000, 92% of malaria infections still occur in Africa.
On Africa’s side is its youth. The median age is 19.4 years. Resilient youth may not be badly affected. But malnutrition and overcrowding in the poorest countries will reduce the effectiveness of even young people’s immune system. Some African countries have been quick to take preventative measures against COVID-19 while infections were still low: the better developed such as Rwanda, Kenya and Ghana. South Africa quickly tried to move into shut-down. Measures have included school closures, checking for raised temperature, restrictions on travel and social gatherings. But once infection enters crowded and poor townships and ‘informal settlements’, spread will be very difficult to contain and treat. Some 400,000 young children die annually of ‘ordinary’ pneumonia in Africa already. Oxygen for medical use is in chronic short supply. Will poor African children with the coronavirus induced variety get off as lightly as young children in Europe?
Coronavirus has shed an extraordinary spotlight on the importance of good governance, and the impact of inequality and poverty on people, both around the world and within nations. Governments that can, and energetically strive to turn well-formulated health policies into reality within their health systems, provide the gold standard. Governments that sustain endemic corruption sacrifice the lives of their citizens. Ways of putting pressure on governments depend on democracy. We in Britain count the number of ventilators in thousands and lament how few. But African doctors treasure the medical equipment sent by a parish in Europe, an x-ray machine donated by Rotary, HAZMAT clothing brought by WHO and international medical charities.
Inequality and poverty cause poor health outcomes wherever you live. Pandemics accentuate dramatically pre-existing inequalities and poverty. Poor Africa has not yet suffered the most from the current outbreak. But this is just a matter of timing. The continent faces a catastrophe once the virus takes hold. Immediate international assistance is needed.
There can be no better target for DfID’s £14.3 billion budget than strengthening Africa’s health systems and helping its population get rid of corrupt leaders. Their commitment to an international response to this global crisis should be championed around the world by wealthier countries and their NGOs.
International development agencies have come in for a hammering recently: repeated denunciations of alleged ‘wasteful funding’ from the Tory back benches - with an eye to plundering DfID’s £13.4 billion budget - ambassadors and High Commissioners given authority over DfID’s country programmes, a prominent Times leader calling for the resignation of the Save the Children CEO for his handling of staff sexual misdemeanours, and the cry of ‘Charity begins at Home’ ever more resonant. It helps in evaluating this onslaught to understand what development is and isn’t.
Does the public actually have a clear view of what development agencies actually do, where they came from, and the origin of their values? It’s a surprising story. The concept of development took shape in the first half of the nineteenth century within the context of the industrial revolution, and serious economic crises which threatened the social and political fabric of European states. A complex of allied themes, interrelated problems and fears: Progress, Corruption, continuity and change, evolution and revolution coloured thinking.
Engels was writing about the condition of the British working class in Manchester at the same time John Henry Newman was considering the development of Christian doctrine. It was Newman, grappling with the problem of continuity and change in the Christian Church, rather than Marx, grappling with capital accumulation as the dynamo of flawed Progress, who was to arrive at something close to the modern understanding of development and tease out its diverse meanings.
In his 1845 Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine Newman used development of doctrine not merely as an explanation of his joining the Roman Catholic Church but as a positive feature of its commitment to the Truth. Then, surprisingly, ‘development’ broke out its religious frame and became the healer of the depredations of social disorder, unemployment, immorality, old and new corruption, all the destructive aspects of Progress. “Is it not a remarkable thing”, Rev. Mark Pattison, a clergyman and supporter of the Social Sciences Foundation, wrote to Newman in 1878, “that you should have first started the idea – and the word – development, as the key to the history of Church doctrine, and since then it has gradually become the dominant idea of all history, biology, physics, and in short has metamorphosed our view of every science, and of all knowledge”. This effusive attribution may have been excessive but Newman’s influence in the Victorian world was prodigious. It shows the close link between God-talk and the origins of development talk.
After the Second World War ‘development’ began to mean significant, sustained and organised action by governments and civil society to improve the lot of the poor. In 1945, Christian Aid began providing relief for European refugees. In 1942, OXFAM (Quaker influenced) took shape and began campaigning for food relief to pass through naval blockades to Nazi-occupied Greece. The wartime Sword of the Spirit produced the radical Catholic Institute for International Relations.
In the 1960s the newly independent countries were calling for a New International Economic Order based on humanistic values and opposed to the economic dominance of the West. This was accompanied by a further Christian contribution to development, the promotion of the idea of integral human development, a transcendent humanism. In 1967, Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Progress of Peoples (Populorum Progressio) took forward the Church’s reflection on the challenge posed by respect for human dignity in the context of contemporary, Western-directed, international development and an incipient new wave of globalisation. It set out unequivocally the responsibility of the Christian community to work for a just form of development. It was to be the charter for Catholic development agencies and the international network of these organisations called CARITAS.
Paul VI analysed causes of poverty before proposing solutions. And prominent amongst the causes were socio-economic structures. The Pope demanded radical structural changes, “bold transformations in which the present order of things will be entirely renewed or rebuilt”. His message was “the economy should be at the service of man”. “The universal social bonds of the human family [interdependence] require everyone to commit themselves to the promotion of development”. Ernst Schumacher, a Buddhist and best known for his 1973 book Small is Beautiful, reflected this theme of the book’s sub-title “Economics as if People Mattered”.
Development aid inevitably entailed political choices. Populorum Progressio was political. It repudiated contemporary approaches that defined development simply as growth in GDP. Colonial and neo-colonial solutions to problems of poverty and injustice were rejected. All peoples and nations should be “artisans of their own destiny”. Pope Paul described life itself a “vocation” to development and fulfilment – but always in particular cultures and societies. In other words, people develop themselves; others cannot do it for them, and for this they needed literacy and education.
Populorum Progressio’s emphasis on unequal power relations and fair trade, are still relevant today, as are an economics of “enough”. It coupled “the material poverty of those who lack the bare necessities of life, and the moral poverty of those who are deformed by selfishness”. It asked “are we ready to pay higher taxes, are we ready to pay more for imported goods which are fairly traded?” We know the answer. The seeds of conflict with the political Right were sown.
Paul VI’s successors continued to speak about poverty, its causes and remedies. In response to accelerating globalisation, Pope John Paul II spoke of solidarity, a favourite NGO word, as a virtue. “When interdependence becomes recognised in this way, the correlative response as a moral and social attitude, as a ‘virtue’, is solidarity. This then is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are really responsible for all”. Whilst echoes of “an economy of enough” re-emerge in Pope Francis’ reaction to climate change and the care of the ‘global commons’.
God talk and development talk have historically been engaged in a creative dialogue. Its outcome and rejection of unrestrained competition and greed has not been music to the ears of Wall Street. Perhaps those in the Tory Party who want to curb Britain’s longstanding substantial contribution to international development might reflect on the values which inspire it. Maybe they have and reject them. The radicalism of developmentalists, both secular and religious, makes it unlikely the current attack on development aid will cease.
See also The Article 18/03/2020
The Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s bumper budget raised some interesting questions about political Parties and ideology. Political Parties stand for particular clusters of ideas which they wish to turn into policies: sound fiscal policy based on the thrifty family finances of a Grantham grocer, or, at the other end of the spectrum, Keynesian pump priming with billions allocated to infrastructure. For a decade in Britain, austerity, like the old tincture of J. Collis Browne (it disappeared because of the morphine content which took Kitchener’s fighting scouts through the trenches), was prescribed as a cure for the general debility of the British economy. The cure now looks highly suspect.
As for the dreaded accusation of a doing a U-turn even when the vehicle was heading towards a precipice - anathema sit. Last week’s accolades from the Conservative benches for the young incumbent of No. 11 Downing Street were genuine and heart-felt. The new boy had put up a jolly good show. Disaffection expressed in some sectors of the Party was muted. As Mrs. Thatcher didn’t say: “You may turn, but the young millionaire will turn a lot more”. Or as Mao didn’t say: “Let a thousand magic money-trees bloom”.
The question is did the Conservative cabinet of yesteryear really believe in fiscal rectitude and a consistent endeavour to balance the books? Or didn’t they? Some did. And what exactly was the magic ingredient in austerity? Not morphine. Austerity hurt and people got very angry not anaesthetised. The approval and support of those wealthy enough not to suffer from a drastic decline in public services was what counted.
The ease with which this U-turn was made might be because the British, apart from those represented by small factions in the two main political Parties, don’t do ideology. Boris Johnson notoriously had two statements ready, one pro-BREXIT, the other anti-BREXIT, before deciding to desert Prime Minister Cameron. This did not appear to discredit him in his Party.
It is often said of the primates (furry ones not those with croziers) that they survived thanks to their adaptability: come down from the trees, it’s a doddle, get your thumbs to work more, no problem, fancy cooked dinners, well how about rubbing sticks together and inventing fire? You can just hear the rival Neanderthals grunting “But that was our policy”. You adapt to survive and the Tories are good at that.
Mr. Johnson’s Cabinet are not the only clever, adaptable, politicians to have strutted the global stage. I would give top marks to the South African Communist Party (SACP). In the early 1980s, I acted as a liaison between the Swedish government and the internal movement of the African National Congress (ANC). Sweden was supporting the ANC inside South Africa financially to end their exclusive reliance on the Soviet and GDR (East German) Communist money and muscle and to demonstrate Nordic goodwill.
Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela’s successor as President, straddled leadership roles in the SACP and leadership in the ANC, and was a most thoughtful and helpful adviser on matters strategic and political. He ended up adopting an economic policy that would not have embarrassed the Chicago neo-liberals. Indeed they helped shape it. When it came to U-turns, President Mbeki was an advanced driver.
There was, of course, a strongly doctrinaire core to the SACP. And Marxist ideology had great influence over its members. I remember Oscar Mpheta, a veteran Cape Town trades unionist leader - he joined the SACP in 1954 - slipping surreptitiously into the back seat of my car and talking into my left ear. A reader of the ANC Marxist magazine Sechaba, he once asked me in genuine wonderment: “Why don’t the workers and peasants of the United States rise up against their oppressors?” I have pondered that question long since.
In November 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and with it the ANC’s main backers. As the Soviet Union crumbled around Gorbachev, its Communist Party abandoned the ANC overnight. Gorbachev’s Africa advisers were ruthless. The ANC would not get a penny more. It had to rethink its strategy.
Almost overnight Joe Slovo, the SACP theoretician and head of its military wing, MK, produced a complex argument for a new charter for the future entitled “Has Socialism Failed?” Critical of Stalinism within the SACP, the pamphlet circulated widely in early 1990. It proposed: a multi-party democratic socialism, freedom of speech and association, of thought and movement – end of pass laws – and of residence, of conscience and religion. There would be a free press and trades union rights would include the right to strike. All South Africans would have a vote in free and democratic elections. It was not so much a U-turn as a radical transformation of a political Party – and, incidentally, in the direction of Scandinavian social democracy. Slovo’s comprehensive pamphlet went far further than Gorbachev was intending to move at the time. So much for the common portrayal of communist ideology as always rigid and intractable.
No-one in the Conservative Party has emerged with the political creativity and adaptability of Joe Slovo. A Jewish, Lithuanian immigrant who arrived in South Africa as a boy speaking only Yiddish, he was a remarkable man and a brilliant theoretician. But, when all is said and done, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites had left the SACP penniless. And money talks. The ANC’s future support would have to come from different quarters. It was the U-turn of the century achieved with great panache.
The leadership of Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party does not ‘do ideology’, but it does do pragmatism, power and money. Its recent U-turn was essential,during a time of national crisis and uncertainty, to win and retain votes won in the December 2019 election. Johnson is smart, but comparisons being odious, he is put in the shade by Joe Slovo. Ideology can provide elegant curtains but, when the house is falling down, watch the money and the dynamics of power.
President Paul Biya of Cameroon is in many ways your bog standard African “authoritarian ruler”, or, as diplomats don’t say, “dictator”. He has held onto power for almost forty years and is now in his seventh term as head of State, the oldest and longest-standing ruler in Africa. In 1983 as sole candidate, he won 99.98% of the votes. He followed the example of other one-party States in the 1990s allowing opposition parties to emerge and simply rigging subsequent elections. What should stifle yawns at his record is that his troops are committing atrocities against an embattled English speaking minority, rampaging through English-speaking villages in a French speaking country whose economy is de facto controlled by French companies (over a hundred and in almost all sectors including off-shore oil).
You may have read about Cameroon in the sports pages, it’s right next to Nigeria on the West Coast of Africa. It’s good at soccer. But now Cameroon has a civil war on its hands, rarely reported. Anglophone grievances came to a head in 2016 when the Francophone-dominated regime imposed French-speaking judges on Anglophone courts, and Francophone teachers in Anglophone schools. The Swiss and Commonwealth representatives have tried to mediate but President Biya thinks he can solve his problem militarily and has told both in no uncertain terms to go away.
Until 1960, there were two Cameroons. The larger territory was governed by France using the French legal and education systems and language. But in the smaller south and west, there were English common law with English judges and English school exams. The present conflict dates back to ‘decolonisation’ in1961 when a UN-backed independence referendum offered the Anglophones the choice between joining Nigeria or joining French Cameroon. Thus 20% of the population were not even offered the option of self-determination.
Under President Biya, the Francophone-dominated government, based in the capital of Yaoundé, has marginalized the mainly Anglophone North West and South West regions. Only one of 36 cabinet posts is held by an Anglophone. Since 2017, despite the constitution guaranteeing human rights, reputable human rights organisations have been recording repeated use of disproportionate force against Anglophone demonstrations. Journalists are arrested and tortured. Government troops, notably the RIB, Rapid Intervention Force, have been burning down English-speaking villages, with the result 656,000 people (UN estimate) have fled, between 35-50,000 of them into Nigerian refugee camps. Meanwhile, secessionist militias have become increasingly violent. Banditry is rampant. Civilians—including Catholic priests—have been kidnapped, some tortured, and Catholic-run schools and clinics, a major provider, forced to close with 800,000 children deprived of schooling. Casualties on both sides have mounted up: some 2-5,000 killed in the violence.
By October 2019 Biya conceded a ‘Major National Dialogue’, but the Anglophone leadership were by now flying under the flag of a “Government Council of Ambazonia’, their name for the two secessionist regions. A paper promise of ‘special status’ on the Quebec model for the two Anglophone regions not surprisingly was refused; few Anglophone leaders were willing to attend the talks whilst the repression continued, and ‘special status left real power centred on the largely Francophone capital, Yaoundé. Biya is France’s man. He is housing 350,000 refugees from the Central African Republic and Nigeria, while deploying Cameroonian troops to fight Boko Haram. He is useful.
In this depressing story what has been the role of France? France never really left Cameroon. It has never shed a certain chauvinistic pride in the merits of its language, so Cameroon with a majority speaking French is an asset. The French Foreign Legion is dotted around the region. I remember a high-level exercise in ‘entente cordiale’ on Africa in the early 1990s when John Major was Prime Minister. It was held in one of the grand reception rooms of the Quai d’Orsay, resplendent with the decorative arts of the Second Empire, the ornate home of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The British delegation comprised FCO, Dfid and international developmental NGOs. We were duly impressed. The French fielded staff from quite different government directorates, notably their Intelligence services and Military plus a lonely anthropologist. That also spoke reams.
An international group of Catholic bishops, brought together by the Toronto-based - non-partisan - Global Campaign for Peace and Justice in Cameroon, have recently signed an open letter to President Biya. They call on the President to join inclusive Swiss-led negotiations to address the long-standing Anglophone concerns and claims. Increased international pressure is necessary if this is ever to happen. But Biya rejects what he claims is foreign interference in a domestic issue, insisting on a “home-grown peace initiative only”.
As the bishops wrote: “When the international community ignores escalating atrocities of the kind happening in Cameroon, it often ends up paying a massive bill. Sooner or later, we must fund refugee camps and peacekeepers, host negotiations, accommodate thousands of migrants seeking asylum, and then help rebuild shattered nations. It makes more sense to use diplomacy to stop the violence at an early stage, finding a political solution to a political problem through inclusive peace negotiations”.
Europe, including Britain, remains distracted by BREXIT, but the USA has begun to apply pressure, distancing itself from the Biya regime by reducing military aid and removing favourable trade status. It is time for another visit to the Quai d’Orsay and a little more entente cordiale.
See The Article "Cameroon: the Language War"
The Spinning Jenny, the power loom, the steam engine, and Mr. Henry Bessemer turning Pig-Iron into fine Steel were the driving forces behind the industrial revolution. This is what history in British schools taught us. British bellicosity and violence, though not mentioned in these terms, appeared as discordant episodes, an unfortunate diversion from the main story. Textile production, the clothes we wore, not how we killed, led the way in this version of industrialisation. Thanks to Charles Dickens, the big picture, and Britain’s self-image, will always remain mixed.
But Stanford History Professor, Priya Satia, in her Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution adds another question mark. She makes a convincing case that guns, along with banks, jump-started the industrial revolution.
Professor Satia’s central theme is that wars, and slavery, obliged the State to intervene so frequently in the ‘civil’ economy that private and public sector became almost co-joined. To win a war the State required large quantities of superior weapons made of better steel with improved firing mechanisms. Manufacturers met the demand. From 1854, Henry Bessemer, applied his considerable skills to meet the State’s need for artillery. In the 1880s, Hiram Maxim’s Gun Company, which was eventually financed and absorbed by the Vickers Steel family, started as a subsidiary of the Barrow-in-Furness Shipyard. So we had got the Maxim gun and they had not. One prerequisite for efficient guns was high quality steel. Public spending on war boosted the domestic economy of the 19th century as it had been doing since mediaeval monarchs set sail for France.
Priya Satia argues that the production of what are now called ‘small arms’ – actually a range of weapons from a shoulder-held surface-to-air missile to the handbag-sized Beretta - drove the international arms trade and the industrial revolution. She sets out an interesting anthropology of gun use. For many years, from highwaymen to African tribal chiefs, guns enhanced their owners’ power with the promise of lethal force, but they were used more to threaten than to kill. There was something impersonal, even a little louche about shooting people, compared to manly close encounters with Sheffield stainless steel, a knife-thrust to the body.
For emerging industrialists the risk of depending on gun production as the dynamo of industrialisation, and guarantor of public spending, was that wars were intermittent – though there were plenty of small to medium scale conflicts in the nineteenth century. Diversification was the answer. Eliphat Remington, who learnt the blacksmith’s trade from his father in Connecticut, started a gun company making rifle barrels. But when the American Civil War ended, the Remington Gun Company fell on difficult times. The Gatling, predecessor of the Maxim gun, spring loaded, but needing cranking - so not quite a machine-gun - had just come on the market and been used in the last stages of the Civil War. The Remington Company, falling on harder times, did a deal in 1868 with Christopher Sholes, inventor of the modern QWERTY keyboard, to create the sit-up-and-beg typewriter with a self-rotating head, aptly described in 1874 as ‘a discursive machine-gun’.
The other problem was oversupply. But Africa provided an ideal market for yesterday’s weapons or for the surplus left after European wars were concluded. From the 1860s to the 1890s between 100,000 to 150,000 trade muskets, made in Birmingham, supplemented Britain’s civilising mission, and kept profits coming.
Old history? Unfortunately not. The passage of years has not made the arms trade, small or big, less important to the global economy. It's 150,000 drones for sale now rather than trade muskets. A UN review in 2006 estimated 200,000 deaths were caused annually by small arms worldwide. 60-90% of direct conflict deaths were caused by small arms – a figure that must need lowering since the recent Russian and Syrian use of indiscriminate bombing and shelling of it civilian population. The Stockholm International Peace Institute put the value of sales from the top 100 arms companies worldwide in 2017 at $398 billion. National statistics for gun ownership show that for every 100 Yemenis 53 own guns, 39 in Serbia and Montenegro, 35 in Canada and 21 in the USA. Encouraging figures for gun manufacturers.
Nor when considering who benefits have we left behind the blurring of private and public. A 2012 Jobs for Generals Press scandal revealed the revolving door between the military and the armaments industry. In the preceding sixteen years 3,500 senior military officers had accepted remunerative positions in private sector armaments companies. In December 2014, after many tries, a – partial - implementation of a UN Arms Trade Treaty began , signed by over one hundred member states, aimed at blocking the flow of weapons to areas suffering war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It had met with determined opposition from the US gun-lobbies, notably the NRA.
Priya Satia has written a fascinating book. There are chapters which seem to have come from a doctoral dissertation: these are about individual ‘pacifist’ Quaker gun manufacturers and their spiritual struggles. If you like tortured theology and tortured consciences these are for you. Others readers may find them hard-going. But everyone reading the brilliantly researched Empire of Guns will be struck by the continuity of the inglorious story of Britain’s and the USA’s relationship to the global arms trade, Eisenhower’s “MiIitary - Industrial Complex”.
Will the arms trade be discussed in Britain’s forthcoming trade talks with the EU and USA? We heard nothing about trade in weapons before BREXIT and, most likely, we’ll hear nothing after. Perhaps we fear being seen as a nation of gun-runners. It’s difficult to be a nation of shopkeepers with shops boarded up in dying high-streets. Or perhaps we are simply ashamed to admit how much money we make from providing the means to kill people.
See TheArticle 16/02/2020