Part II: George Washington and the Chanting Mullah
In an earlier post I explained how international aid grew into the behemoth we see today. For the most part, international aid programs are a post-WWII foreign policy tool. We give and we get back. I also promised to demonstrate that this type of giving wasn’t working. In fact this type of giving isn’t really giving at all. Let me explain.
What if I told you I loved you and that’s why I just popped fifty of my most beloved Islamic mullah morning prayer chants into your car stereo for our big road trip? Seriously. What if I made you listen to endless hours of music chanted in a foreign language and without any hint of harmony?
Even worse, what if I made you listen to Disney hits on a loop and I told you I did this because I love you? What if I did that? Then what if I told you that by listening to my cool mullah music or my Disney ditties you’d be happy one day and, if you toughed it out, you would end up with your very own stereo player in your very own new car? Would you love me back?
The answer is obvious. But what isn’t so obvious is if this type of giving is also self-centered. I mean, if I tell you that you can have a stereo and a new car if you man-up and listen to my music, haven't I done a nice thing? What’s so bad about that? After all, didn't war torn Europe do well by jamming out to our Marshall Plan music after WWII? They did as they were told and prospered. Why can't you?
Here’s the difference. Europe's music was ours. It was written in four parts. It was recognizable. We shared a common history. They liked it for the most part and in the end that made it a gift. It was for them.
But when JFK and others applied the same logic towards impoverishment in the developing worlds of Africa and the Middle East (and all non-western nations around the globe), the music was all wrong. The plan to lift poor nations out of poverty by designing them in our own image failed. It continues to fail.
Check out these two articles on recurring failures A History of Aid Failures and 7 Worst Failures. I especially like the story about how rapper 50 Cent used starving kids in Somalia as ransom for his new energy drink. Ouch.
At the core of our failure as donors of “aid” is the same problem that gums up our relationships with mom and dad and the guy who lives down the street: Ego. In fact, in terms of human development, our ego is at the core of human underdevelopment. Bad relationships screw stuff up and most bad relationships start out with bad listening. It’s difficult to really listen to others, to hear the melody, to understand the rhythm. We don't want to take the time to listen.
It’s not time we need, however, it’s humility. In the third and final blog on Washington and Africa, I’ll take a look at people around the world who have taken the time to know those whom they aim to assist. You’ll be impressed by them. Be warned however, like George Washington, they aren’t always very nice people.