Saturday, December 02, 2006

If Wishes were Fishes We'd all have a Fry.

I’ve been reading a fascinating book called “Eco-Imperialism” by Paul Drissen. His thesis is that the environmental movement has been hijacked by radicals who are advocating principles that prevent third world countries from employing the technology that made the first world rich to begin with.

This is an idea that I have been clumsily grappling with from the beginning of our research on malaria. I am not prepared to agree entirely with Driessen’s assessment of the situation because I believe there are legitimate environmental concerns that must be addressed and I cannot wholeheartedly move beyond Enron into complete trust for big business. (And because I’ve spent the last five years thinking of myself as “liberal” and this fellow is decidedly not…)

However, the idea that standards for the third world differ from standards from the first world seems obvious. You only have to walk the streets here in Uganda to realize that the situation here is incomparable with the situation in the United States. Of course their needs are different from ours. African governments are still dealing with matters of basic infrastructure like water sanitation systems, electric grids, education and health care. In the United States we take these things for granted. The issues our government is dealing with are profoundly different.

And so Africa finds itself caught between its hopes and aspirations for itself and the reality of its situation. In the rich, developed world we come from, we believe we have the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight. On one hand, we can see how science and technology have shaped our world and provided dramatic improvements in the day to day lives of many people. On the other hand, we have also seen the post modern take-over; all progress comes with costs and technology creates new problems. This fills the modern world with ambiguity and moral relativism. Add political correctness into the mix and you get an inability to articulate the problems of African countries without calling up painful memories of Imperialism and racism.

I don’t know what the right answers are, but I know that laws and regulations that make sense for us in the United States don’t necessarily make sense here in Africa. There are local and foreign politicians, NGO’s of every conceivable shape and size, environmental groups, missionaries and ambassadors all putting in their two cents about what needs to happen to make changes here on the ground, and it is easy to see why things get so muddled. In trying to please everyone, progress grinds to a halt. It is intensely frustrating to watch, both for Africans and for us as visitors. How can so many good intentions produce so few good results?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Fantasic insight!! I sympathize intensely with your intellectual struggle to seek the "truth" amid the bewildering backdrop of conflicting and painful issues. I have been on this journey myself.

Hang tough and, if you are very lucky, the truth may reveal itself in the end.


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