Monday, June 18, 2007

The World Bank killed me...

Mission accomplished…At last I finished the translation of this Country Assistance Strategy for the Republic of Senegal. I spent several days in a row locked in at home in front of my computer and I ended completely wrecked.

At times, I noted a few information which at first seemed quite incongruous to me like if Senegal reduces the price of its sugar by half, which is more expensive than in The Gambia or Sri Lanka, then the number of poor would diminish by 200 000. Is that so?

I struggled with the sustainability of the debt, the predictions until 2026 in low case, high case…I got frantic with the multitude of ratios: debt-to-GDP ratio, debt-to-export ratio, debt service-to-exports ratio.

Just cancel the damned debt and let's not talk about it any more!

I don’t have a special interest in international politics – well I suppose, just the minimum but seriously, once I was done with the translation, I ended up asking myself whether in reality and in total honesty does Africa still owe money ? This is the title of the song by an African artist…Does Africa still owe money ?

I wasn’t writing on the blog lately because I was in semi vacation and also busy looking for information about the current situation of hunger in the world and the behaviour of the World Bank and its twin brother the IMF (International Monetary Fund).

According to a report issued by the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) in 2006, the world-wide agriculture has the capacity to feed 12 billions of human beings. Though we are 6,2 billions, 850 millions permanently suffer from severe nutritional deficiencies.

So why is this? Because the current market is being dictated by absurd and even fatal rules.

In his book, L’Empire de la honte (2005) (the empire of shame), Jean Ziegler – UN special rapporteur on the Right to Food – explains that the cause of hunger is “the scandalous distribution of wealth, the liberalization of trade policy led by the OMC (World Trade Organization) and the agricultural dumping policy of the European Union.”

It should also be stressed that the World Bank and IMF systematically support the aperture of markets and the suppression of tariff barriers.

Here are two examples which show the absurdity of the current market rules:

Let’s consider the case of Africa.

Farmers from Northern countries (European Union) receive grants and allocations to exportation from their government. As a result, you can find French, Spanish, Portuguese or Italian fruit or vegetable on any African market, which are sold at 2/3 or half the price of the local products. Even if an African farmer works until 15 hours a day, he doesn't earn enough money to sustain his family and live off his own production. Therefore, he is gradually pushed to emigrate towards urban centres in search of an inexistent or underpaid job.

If I take up the document I've just translated and which concerns Senegal, the World Bank states the very difficult conditions of farmers and their emigration towards the cities but doesn't really analyze the cause of it. It doesn't mention the unfair unbalance due to trade liberalization and rather exhorts Senegal to export more cherry tomatoes, mangoes, green beans or melons to foreign countries. In the same way, it doesn't really emphasize the improvement of Senegalese agriculture for its own local consumption.

Here is another example of absurdity:

The African farmer doesn't either have the means to fight against the massive importation of chicken from European countries. As European cereal producers benefit from direct aids, imported chicken are cheaper than local chicken (0,50 €/kg against 1,8 to 2,4 €/kg).

In Cameroon, local producers could cover 90% of the national needs. Today, they provide only 37% of the poultry consumed in this country due to fierce price competition.

On top of that, we’re not even talking of a nice fat imported chicken…In fact, Africa receives frozen chicken parts. The good parts (wings, legs, drumsticks and breast) are sold to European consumers. The rest is left for the African consumer: ends of wings, feet, rumps. One can also wonder about the quality of these products as the cold chain is often interrupted before being presented to the consumer. The meat might have been thawed then frozen again several times.

Let’s now leave Africa and go to Brazil where we talk about the same chicken....
For this same European chicken is fed with soybean from Brazil.

Brazil is an agricultural country. Yet among the 181 millions of Brazilians, 44 millions suffer from severe nutritional deficiencies. President Lula da Silva wants to eradicate hunger through the implementation of an agrarian reform, but he can't because he doesn't have the financial means in order to do so. His country is severely indebted towards the World Bank and to reimburse the interests of the debt, Brazil destroys its Amazonian forest to grow soybean which will then feed chicken in Europe.

I guess, this is what we could call a vicious circle couldn’t we?

Concerning the fight against diseases, I will just say one thing. In Africa, malaria still kills millions of children whereas medicine and preventive treatment exist and can be efficient on a short period.

In the document I translated, the World Bank proposes to “reduce by one-third the malaria death rate in the population compared to the 2005 baseline” and suggests that “50% of targeted households use insecticide treated nets by 2009".
One-third, no more…And why provide mosquito nets to only 50% of the targeted households, why not 100%? I seriously cannot believe there is not enough money to provide mosquito nets to who needs it.

Rightly so, Jeffrey Sachs – special advisor to United Nations Secretary General on the Millenium Development Goals finds “unacceptable that African children go to bed without being protected with a mosquito net which only costs 5 $. A mosquito net lasts 5 years which represents one dollar per year, per capita in the rich countries”.

To be precise, the cost of a mosquito net varies between 5 and 10 $. Then, it costs between 0,50 and 1 $ per year to impregnate it with insecticide. It should be treated every six months; otherwise it has no protective effect. The insecticide being used is the same as in medical shampoos to treat lice. It is lethal to insects but its toxicity does not affect human beings.

I will end this note – already a little bit too long – with 3 more examples showing the rather unorthodox behaviour of the World Bank.

Once again, these facts deal with the third world debt. They are extracted from the book of Eric Toussaint, La Banque mondiale: le coup d'état permanent (The World Bank: a permanent coup). Eric Toussaint is an historian and a political scientist. He is also Head of the Committee for the Abolition of the Third World debt in Belgium.

He realized a study on the World Bank based on a meticulous analysis of 12 000 pages of the Bank internal documents.

• Several African countries (Ghana, Nigeria, Congo, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali) inherited the debt contracted by the colonizing countries.
When British, French and Belgian colonies in Africa became independent, France, Great-Britain and Belgium agreed with the World Bank and in total violation of the regulations of international rights, to transfer to these new independent countries, the debts contracted towards the Bank in the 1950's in order to colonize and exploit these countries.
This statement has been verified and confirmed to the author by the Chief Executive Officer of the World Bank in Belgium in 2006.

• The Article 4, section 10 of the World Bank statutes stipulates that the Bank does not have the right to interfere in states political affairs and that it cannot decide to lend or not lend money to a country according to its government policy.

However, the World Bank is well-know for having supported many dictatorships, for instance Somoza’s regime in Nicaragua during the 1950’s. It currently supports the dictatorial regime of Idriss Déby in Chad. This could be perceived as normal since the World Bank contributed to the construction of a pipeline (more than 1000 kms), between 2000 and 2003, in order to transport petroleum from Chad via Cameroon towards the Atlantic Ocean. This is the kind of project the World Bank particularly cherishes as it mainly concerns the interests of the United States. The irony of the story is that the Bank had to suspend momentarily the transfer of funds in 2000, as Idriss Déby used the first millions of dollars to buy weapons to strengthen his regime.

• In July 2005, the Ecuadorian Minister of Finances, Rafael Correa, decided to reform the use of petroleum resources. Instead of reimbursing the debt in its entirety, he wanted to use a part of these resources towards social development, principally in defence of the Indian communities which are often left neglected. Consequently, the World Bank refused a loan of 100 millions of dollars which it had promised to Ecuador. The Bank then made pressures on President Palacio until Correa resigned. One year after, Correa was elected President of Ecuador and declared the President of World Bank in Ecuador, persona non grata. His movement has been followed by several South American countries. At the end of this month, presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador will meet in order to launch officially the Bank of the South. The future will tell what will come out of it....

Recently, the medias largely commented the resignation of the former President of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz so I am not going to tackle the subject, suffice to say that Wolfowitz is close to G. Bush and was one of the earliest supporters of the war against Irak.

As I said earlier, I am not deeply interested in international political matters. I am 100% girly, I like pink. I’ve got a happy life. I like luxury. My friends describe me as a sophisticated ex Parisian little thing – very lala at times, well you know, a little bit crazy (actually Lala is my real name, meaning “beloved” in Malagasy).
In a very cynical way, I would even add that a child dying every three seconds doesn't keep me from sleeping and that yes I will carry on eating Crunch chocolate of the Nestlé brand, knowing its CEO is a first class bastard who dares say that water has become a market value.

No…but you see, I strongly believe that at times, we all have this little something in us which makes us want to shout : stop this bullshit !
What disturbs me after having done this translation is the burden of the debt in Africa, even if it is relieved or cancelled like it has been in some countries. Surely I am under the influence of my origins from Madagascar. I am now convinced that the World Bank does everything so that hunger and poverty last on and on and on...Hungry men cannot think or fight can’t they ?

I wrote this note because it was important to me and also I would like to know what you think….I asked my friends, relationships and even other bloggers just to say what they think. So don't hesitate...

In order to forward the message, I’m currently working on a project (implying design) about which I will talk to you in a couple of weeks.


• Interview of Jean Ziegler by French newspaper Libération, on April 25th 2007 on website: I love that man. When you listen to him, you really feel like telling him: "Thank you so much for existing". I saw Jean Ziegler for the first time, many years ago on French TV. He was explaining the change which occurred inside of him, when during a chic dinner party in Africa, he could suddenly see dozens of children hanging on to the gate, begging for food.

• Interview of Eric Toussaint, on June 6th 2007 on website : this is the website of the Committee for the Abolition of the Third World debt. Reading it is absolutely fascinating and very instructive in order to better understand how and why the measures undertaken by the World Bank and IMF only result in emphasizing and reproducing poverty. This site is written in French, English and Spanish.

• Interview of Jeffrey Sachs, on January 17th 2005 on website

• Le Monde diplomatique, juin 2007


African Kelli said...

I think you bring up many strong and interesting points here. The difficulty is that, like you, I cannot completely understand what is going on or why these market pressures influence the poor so much more than the rich. It is all a bit intimidating.
I do know, without a doubt, that debt should be relieved, but not without serious consideration of those African leaders in power. In my opinion, poor leadership on the ground in Africa is as much to blame. The corruption is disgusting.
Thank you for bringing this topic up and for encouraging your friends to think about such weighty issues!

Justin said...

You have been given access to some important information through your translation work. You raise some interesting questions and reveal some interesting aspects of your personality! I would question your lack of humanity, with regards to the constant deaths of small children and would suggest that this is a natural reaction, based on guilt, that we in the north of europe can suffer. Don`t be so hard on yourself... On the other hand, Nestle were responsible for the death of many many children through their educational program of encouraging African mothers to move from breastfeeding to Nestle formula milk, when there was often no chance of sourcing clean I would suggest that if you truly feel awakened and angry by what you have discovered then a good way to show it is to boycott this company.
On a personal note, I find this subject far more interesting than knowing what coulour shirt your boyfriend chose on a recent shopping trip... :)

Isabella said...

What are your thoughts on the starvation in Mugabe's Zimbabwe? It is totally man made, food was always plentiful there , it was called a bread basket of Africa ,I don't think you can blame Word bank for it. As far as I remember Word bank forgave African countries billions already. The tragedy of Africa are corrupt dictators, that bleed the countries dry and squander help that comes from the West. People starve, children die, but there is always money to buy guns, and bombs, whose fault is it?

Sarah said...

Thanks for writing about things both light and heavy. You have a beautiful blog.

As an American, I have easy access to a lot of cheap, quality consumer products. Maybe I could impact the policies of my governement for the better if I could maintain awareness of what I support through my many little daily purchases, from chocolate bars to gasoline. Perhaps I could make purchasing decisions that reflect my values...such as being vegetarian and only buying local produce. The problem as I see it is maintaining that awareness and dedication in a world that seems full of self-interested individuals and that rewards like-minded behaviors. I like that you bravely admit your short comings. The world - full of contrasting beauty and pain - gets to be so heavy sometimes that a bit of chocolate or color is worth the horrible, horrible price.

But, knowing that you know and I know what needs to be done makes me feel that, at least for a few days, I can avoid Nestle and only buy gas from Citgo.

Thank you for writing.

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Caroline said...

I totally agree...I've written a few papers and read a few books about the world bank, and its really shocking and frustrating. The most frustrating was a memoir I read called "Confession of an Economic Hitman." Other books I recommend are "Imperial Nature" and "The White Man's Burden." I'm glad you care so much about this.

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