Prime Minister Harper's New-Old Federal Cabinet Portfolios: Western Diversification, Northern Exploitation, Ontario Manipulation, Quebec Misinterpretation, Atlantic Marginalization, National Disorientation. My letter printed in Globe and Mail, July 17, 2013,
. . . . So now we learn that the Harper government, which got rid of the long-form census because it allegedly intruded upon the privacy of Canadians, has been making use of a secret electronic eavesdropping program to track our telephone and internet activities.
If there was nothing wrong with this program when Liberal Defense Minister Bill Graham brought it in in 2005, why did the Conservatives get rid of it a couple of years later? If there was something wrong with this program [which there was], why did the Conservatives bring it back in 2011? And why did they do so in secret?
And why are they now hiding information on the program behind blackened out (redacted) lines and paragraphs in documents released through the Access to Information process?
It seems that Harper’s Conservatives really have become (to quote former Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber) “the thing they mocked”!
[The complete text of my letter published on this date in the Globe and Mail]
Africa’s greatest success story is Botswana – land-locked, 70 per cent desert and, at independence in 1966, one of the continent’s poorest countries. Its government refused World Bank advice and the quick fix of massive investment loans and took a gradualist approach to development, building on what little strength it had – its people
and their cattle.
When diamonds and copper were discovered, it did not sell off these resources for an infusion of riches but partnered with international firms to develop them gradually. It reinvested the royalties in education and health. It regulated the banks, making credit available to ordinary citizens to build homes and create economic opportunities. The results: Per capita income rose from $70 to more than $13,000, cattle herds tripled and the country has prospered. This is what intelligent, honest and pragmatic government has achieved.
Burris Devanney, Letter to the Editor
Montana’s Attorney-General has found Greg Mortenson guilty of “financial mismanagement” and fined him a million dollars. Mortenson is the charismaticauthor of the international best-seller “Three Cups of Tea”and the
founder of the Central Asia Institute, an organization dedicated to building
schools in destitute villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Mortenson’s fall from grace is indeed a tragic fall, destroying his reputation and seriously disillusioning donors who had contributed $60 million to enable him to carry forward the work that he had so compellingly described in his memoir. Tragically, the disillusion he has created may harm many worthy development organizations and programs.
The first school that Mortenson built in collaboration with Pakistani villagers during the 1990s was a five-room structure which cost $12,000, or $2,400 per room. This provided the project model that he now began to market across North America. It epitomized cost-effective, appropriate development on an ambitious but manageable scale that could be carried forward “school-by-school”.
Mortenson’s model was eminently practical. I know this from personal experience in another poor country, The Gambia in West Africa.
In 1988 I secured $1,000 from a Halifax Rotary Club to enable a middle school in Gunjur village to generate income to pay for instructional materials. The villagers proposed using the $1,000 to establish a“broiler chicken industry” for the local market. They ordered a few dozen“starter” chicks and organized work teams to construct a formidable chicken coop, with a thick cement floor, high cement walls, a strongly supported corrugated metal roof and durable wire mesh from wall to roof to keep out predators – hawks, rats, bush cats, pythons.
However, the project lasted but two cycles; some of the chicks matured, had offspring, grew into broilers and were sold at a good price. But most of them died. When I visited the school in 1990, the chicken coop had become a classroom, the sturdiest, coolest, most spacious –easily the best – in the school. When I reported on the transformation of the chicken coop at a Rotary luncheon in Halifax, the members laughed,“That’s great! $1,000 for a classroom! Whatever works!”
By contrast Oprah Winfrey lavished $40 million on a luxurious residential school for 450 carefully selected impoverished girls in South Africa, from which there have been, after four years, 73 graduates –girls who Oprah hopes will become leaders in a country with
a tragic history of elitism and privilege.
Oprah’s $40 million, spent differently, could have funded 20,000 sturdy classrooms in poor villages across Africa for half a million students.
How do I know this?
I know from municipal government records that in 2010 a local contractor in rural Ghana could build a decent 6-room primary school for 200 students, with an office, staff-room, store-room, latrines and toilets for less than $40,000.
Unlike Oprah, Mortenson was not building schools for villages but with them, contributing money and materials – and sometimes his own sweat – to supplement their voluntary labour. Unlike Oprah, he was not taking a select group of children away from their families and their peers and putting them
through some kind of exclusive finishing school, but working with their families
to have whole villages of children educated together. The children attended
classes with their peers and lived at home with their families. There were no
pre-selected elites among them. Leaders would emerge naturally.
That, at least, was his plan – and it was a good one, until his memoir was published, donor money poured in, and hubris overwhelmed judgment.
But Oprah’s project, however generous and well-intentioned, is a travesty of development and a symbol of profligacy and an extraordinary hubris that, unlike Mortenson’s, has gone critically unrecognized.
By contrast, Greg Mortenson was initially well-grounded, practical, close to the people, non-elitist and inspiring. We have a lot to learn from him. His approach to development was – in the beginning – exemplary.
That is why his fall from grace is deeply tragic.
CIDA's funding of mining companies is a new perversion of the old discredited tied aid formula (Published as a letter to the editor in Embassy Magazine, Feb 8, 2012)
Two articles in the February 1, 2012 edition of Embassy Magazine (“Mixing apples and rowboats” by Ian Smillie and “Promote inclusive growth through trade in Asia” by Stephen P. Groff) make it clear that the Harper government’s use of foreign aid as the handmaid of an export-driven foreign policy is counter-productive both to effective development assistance and to our country’s industrial health.
The linking of Canada’s development assistance to the activities of Canadian mining corporations in Africa and South America is another recent example of the corruption of our country`s foreign policy values. This is not a genuine“innovation”, as a beleaguered CIDA claims, but a new perversion of the
old discredited tied aid formula. CIDA’s funding of Canadian NGOs to work in
poor villages under the umbrella of Canadian mining companies is a 19th century throwback that will probably deliver more harm than good and turn poor villages into little neo-colonies or factory towns, with the NGOs serving as paternalistic, if not parasitic, social overseers.
I agree with Stephen Groff that Canada could help poor countries, while providing opportunities (but not tied aid contracts) for Canadian engineering and construction companies, by investing in the development of infrastructure – for example, roads and bridges to enable poor rural farmers to get their goods to major urban markets in their own country or children in remote villages to get to school instead of being cut off for weeks or months from their district school by the seasonal flooding of dry river beds.
Beyond such basic but critical forms of assistance, (as Rahim Rezaie explains in his“Note to Harper”) Canada has sophisticated and well integrated knowledge and communications industries (including health, medical and pharmaceutical sectors) that could provide immense benefits to developing countries everywhere in the world, at the same time as they create respectable global commercial opportunities for Canadians.
Unfortunately, our government has its head in the oil sands and tends to think of the earth as something to be dug up and sifted, rented or sold, and its people as just buyers or sellers.
Thanks to The Globe and Mail for running the series on “innovative ways to deliver aid in our conflicted world” and for publishing today my letter (as follows) in response to the articles, although I was disappointed that the newspaper chose to delete my comments on CIDA's funding of Canadian mining companies.
“Delivering aid” is an unfortunate choice of words, implying a one-sided, non-consultative approach. My experience, spanning 46 years and seven African countries, is that successful development assistance depends on long-term (one to two decades) community-based programs implemented collaboratively by relatively equal, mutually respectful partners.
The three-year project model is a quick fix favoured by reluctant donors always looking for the exit. As a continental strategy for Africa, it’s a rude and counter-productive little hello-goodbye game, and many well-conceived projects fail simply because their life span is too short.
CIDA’s recent “innovation” (funding Canadian NGOs to work in poor villages under the umbrella of Canadian mining companies) is a throwback that will probably deliver more harm than good and turn poor villages into little neo-colonies or factory towns with NGOs as paternalistic, if not parasitic, social overseers.
Entrepreneurs can be effective change agents, but they seldom emerge from subsistence farming villages. When good roads connect farmers to their markets, a country’s internal economy begins to grow and then entrepreneurs may emerge and help to diversify the economy.
I am disturbed by the Canadian government’s ongoing shabby treatment of Canadian NGOs and their overseas partners, whose submissions for development projects – in response to the government’s own call for proposals – have been sitting on International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda’s desk awaiting her signature for up to three months beyond the date on which the government pledged to announce its decisions.
Successful proposals for less than $2 million were to have been announced by September 30th. Successful proposals for more than $2 million were to have been announced by August 15th.
CIDA officers submitted their recommendations to the Minister on time. But the Minister is apparently waiting for strategists in the Prime Minister’s Office to decide the politically opportune moment to announce the winners (and the losers) in this game – which shouldn’t be a game! In the meantime, more than 200 Canadian NGOs and their overseas partners are being kept in the dark. This delay is embarrassing for the Canadian NGOs, as they begin to lose the confidence of their overseas partner(s) and the relevant government departments in the overseas country
Despite how the Prime Minister touted his Maternal and Child Health initiative on the world stage (e.g. at the G-20 Summit), Canadian NGOs and their overseas partners have been forced to postpone implementing critical overseas programs in poor countries relating to this and other approved priorities while their proposals gather dust on Minister Oda‘s desk. Some programs may have to be cancelled as Canadian NGOs and their overseas partners, left in Limbo without a definite yea or nay in the previous as well as the current funding round, have had to terminate the jobs of experienced staff critical to the effective implementation of their program for lack of cash flow.
Everyone is left hanging – including the Minister herself, who is hanging like a puppet on a string. She should have the integrity to cut the string and resign, but as we have already seen she doesn’t and she won’t.
And I now hear on the “Ottawa NGO grapevine” that there may be no
announcement of “winners” at all – that all 200 NGOs will be asked to revise and
re-submit their proposals!
Because the government wanted to push aid money toward certain favoured organizations (some of them not very experienced in overseas development work), but that these organizations were not competent or experienced enough to develop proposals that could be approved by CIDA staff. Hence everything has been put on hold and CIDA is being required to set up additional training sessions in “results-based management” proposal writing for the staffs of all organizations that submitted proposals in the last round, including those whose well-written proposals were actually approved by CIDA staff.
In brief, it has been “leaked” that everything on the Minister’s desk is going to be referred back to CIDA – whose experienced and generally hard-working staff is being demoralized by the whole shameful process. Whatever the case and regardless of whether the grapevine is correct in its conspiracy theory, the opposition parties need to be looking into the inordinate – and for NGOs and their partners the embarrassing and costly – delay in the Minister’s announcement of approved projects.
The final "chapter" of African Chronicles is an Epilogue that tries to respond to the compelling question that runs through the whole narrative: What happened to the bright prospects, the great expectations, of Africa in the 1960s?
Virtually all those who have looked into this question have discovered a strange and unexpected congruence: the heart-rending demise of Africa’s bright prospects and the extra-ordinary growth of the global aid business. You would think that these would be incompatible phenomena. Yet the coming together – the development – across the entire continent of Africa of increased poverty, on one hand, and a multi-billion dollar aid industry, on the other hand, can hardly be a coincidence.The question is more than compelling. For the research is brutal. It is like the forensic probing of a wounded powerful body too resilient and too beautiful to die.
For that reason, I put the question this way: Who murdered Africa’s bright prospects? Where, when, why and how was it done? That question drives and animates the entire memoir, making it – to the best of my ability to thing, to write and to love – a narrative of understanding.
In every country Louanne and I witnessed kindness up close, at a personal level, and cruelty from a distance – often delivered from above – delivered by those in power. Cruelty was a tool of the most powerful and, because of that, every society was conflicted, complicated and far from innocent.
Yet – as you will see in what I have written – in our experience, kindness and courtesy far outweighed cruelty in almost every personal transaction we had with Africans. Thus whatever your previous experience of Africa, I believe you will enjoy the book and find it a positive – and, I believe, an uplifting – experience.
I am interested in initiating a conversation around the question posed by the memoir: What happened to Africa’s bright prospects? It's a question that I wish to pursue more deeply and more thoroughly in my next book, a sequel to African Chronicles. Many of you who read this blog will have your own experience of Africa or of international development, either at first hand, up close and personal, or vicariously, from a distance, from books, from various media or from the experience of others – or both. Whatever the case, I invite you to respond to this question, drawing upon your own experience and insights.
Thanks to the Globe and Mail for the comprehensive package of articles in the October 29 issue on international aid, "Save the World Inc". But the most impotant idea in the ten-page section was a statement which, unfortunately, was not pursued in any of the articles: "What brought people out of poverty was export-led economic growth and political stability." Such was the case with the Asian "tigers".
Yet half a century after colonialism, even the politically stable African countries are still living as economic colonies of northern countries, supplying raw materials cheaply and buying finished products at inflated prices. The old colonial trade routes are still largely in place, whereby African countries continue to trade on inequitable terms with developed countries, including the emergent Asian economies, more than with one another.
African countries do not at this time need more trade with developed countries. They need more trade with their neighbours on the same continent and even between regions within their own countries. The road links between and within African countries were never sufficiently developed by the colonizers and remain in a deplorable condition today. Yet these roads are vital to the development of an intra-African trade that would enable Africans to begin developing mature economies and emerging from poverty. How can the world best help Africa? Help improve the intra-continental transportation infrastructure.
By destroying the records of the long-gun registry at the first possible opportunity, the Harper government is implementing a “scorched earth” policy three years in advance of its possible defeat in the next election. The boastful proclamation of this action by government ministers and MPs is politically barbaric: “Burn the records before the enemy [another democratically elected government] takes over.”
Will this government now proceed to shred and burn information previously gathered by
Statistics Canada on the abolished long-form census? Will the government then go on to trash historical weather data gathered by Environment Canada as a means of destroying scientific evidence of climate change in Canada?
Satirical comments aside, there is a fundamental legal question here: Who owns the data collected by government – the government of the day or the Canadian people? Could the government of Quebec, which would like to maintain the long-gun registry in its own jurisdiction, seek a court injunction to prevent the destruction of these records? Could the matter be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada?
Burris Devanney is a Canadian educator, development worker