2047. New year; same old.

 

And so another year has passed. Goodbye 2046, hello 2047. They seem to fly by these days.  I can recall ruminating on the state of the planet thirty years ago, when everyone seemed rather pessimistic regarding our future. I too, felt an apprehension. It was hard to maintain faith in humanity with despicable breaches of human rights portrayed almost daily in the media. And many people had lost faith. Significant political votes illustrated the power of democracy, with Donald Trump coming to power in the US, and The UK leaving the European Union (EU), dubbed ‘Brexit’. These were alterations unthinkable only a decade previously, and yet a decade on, were simply catalysts for further change. Brexit took place in 2018, France soon followed after the success of the right-wing National Front, and in Germany Angela Merkel’s popularity plummeted, leading to a shock victory for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in 2017, and their subsequent withdrawal from the EU. This set the wheels in motion for the fall of the EU in 2020, an outstanding demise considering the situation a mere decade previous.

Global tensions reached breaking point during the 2020s, a result of increasing hostility in the Middle East, as well as a growing necessity to address the issues of climate change and food insecurity, amongst others. Scholars pondered whether it would take a calamity on the scale of World War II to demonstrate the abject poverty of our current thinking (Weiss, 2009), and they weren’t far off. The proxy-war phenomenon reached all time high levels of prevalence, with the superpowers including Russia and the USA becoming apprehensive of rapidly falling oil production. The pointing of the the finger of blame culminated in the disbandment of the United Nations (UN) in 2026, and it is still yet to be fully replaced today. Global governance fell by the wayside and trade partnerships are now firmly on a country to country basis. Unity and credence gave way to mistrust and suspicion. Today known as the dark decade, the 2020s were undoubtedly a wretched period for humanity.

Needless to say, by 2030 it was a dire state of affairs. By this point, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), established in early 2016, were meant to have mobilised efforts to end all forms of poverty, fought inequalities and tackled climate change (Nino and Alexovich, 2016), however by 2030 none of these had come close to being achieved, and the UN was no more. Some would argue, the end of what was arguably an organisation inefficient and incapable of shifting resources from the world’s rich to the poor (Murphy, 2000), was not a bad thing. After all, The Congress System, League of Nations and subsequently the United Nation all failed in their task of maintaining world peace. Maybe it was time for a new perspective.

And slowly, over time, things improved. The absence of a global governance proved not to be so detrimental after all. Countries began to strike up trading partnerships with one another on their own terms. The legacy of the UN in promoting democracy was beneficial indeed in newfound political relations proving successful. Technological advancements, combined with a plummet in oil productivity, led to many recalling Boserup’s Theory, that necessity was indeed the mother of invention (Boserup, Forew, and Chambers, 1993). Green technologies soon became the only option by 2040, and by this stage they had been perfected to high levels of efficiency and low cost. Agricultural advancements also allayed fears of food insecurity, with biotechnology proving vital in feeding the worlds poor.

That being said, it should not be a cause for too much optimism. The human race has been guilty for decades for simply doing the bare minimum and, 30 years on, there is still a long way to go.

 

 

Bibliography

Boserup, E., Forew and Chambers, R. (1993) The conditions of agricultural growth: The economics of agrarian change under population pressure. London: Earthscan Publications.

Murphy, C.N. (2000) ‘Global governance: Poorly done and poorly understood’, International Affairs, 76(4), pp. 789–804. doi: 10.1111/1468-2346.00165.

Nino, F.S. and Alexovich, A. (2016) United Nations sustainable development agenda. Available at: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/ (Accessed: 2 January 2017).

Weiss, T.G. (2009) ‘What happened to the idea of world government’, International Studies Quarterly, 53(2), pp. 253–271. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2478.2009.00533.x.

 

 

Western superpowers no longer the driving force in the new ‘scramble for Africa’

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Cartoon depicting China’s benefit from FDI in Africa – Al Jazeera

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, huge portions of African territory were carved up and divided for European superpowers to take control of, later dubbed the “Scramble for Africa”. In 1870, only ten percent of Africa was under European control, yet less than forty years later this figure had increased to ninety percent of the continent, such was the extent of Western ne0-imperialism.

Over a century on, a new form of involvement has emerged. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to a lesser extent (BRICS), has resulted in their growing influence over large parts of the continent, despite questions being raised about stability of their own economies. Since South Africa joined the BRIC grouping in 2010 at China’s invitation, there’s been considerable discussion about the rationale for its admittance (Smith, 2013).  Jim O’Neill, the Goldman Sachs analyst who coined the term BRIC, has questioned why South Africa was asked over much larger economies. Yet other commentators, including author Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, have argued that geopolitics trumped global economics: while its economy is dwarfed by others around the world, South Africa is important regionally because its economy is sizable in continental terms. (Carmody, 2011)

What all the Brics countries share, however, is awareness of the potential in the rest of Africa. Even if there is a hidden agenda behind South Africa’s admittance to the BRIC grouping, it has not stopped huge economic investment in Africa by the BRICS since the turn of the millennium. From 2000 to 2014, BRICS-Africa trade rose by 1,250% (Mulupi, 2016). In 2014 alone China invested £56bn in African infrastructure (Poplak, 2016). China’s pursuit of Africa’s natural resources has undoubtedly been a central component in African economic growth over the past decade, but is this colonialism in another guise?

Questions must be raised of the legitimacy of the actions of the BRICS; is it really likely to just be a result of good nature? For example, China’s economic and political interest in Africa certainly has been driven by the impact of the country’s need for new overseas markets to absorb the products of its expanding economy. Furthermore, Africa’s rich natural resources are arguably the primary reason for FDI. China’s share of Africa’s unprocessed primary products was more than 80% of its total imports from Africa (Mbaye, 2011). Certainly the level of Chinese FDI flowing into Africa at present is staggering. And with FDI being an engine for economic growth (Moyo, 2010, p. 101), it is difficult to blame African countries for turning it down. But this Chinese FDI is bundled together with concessional loans (Mbaye, 2011), and as a result, concern about African countries’ future debt burden is growing.

Within a mere decade there have come to be more Chinese living on the African continent than Europeans despite decades of Western imperialism. Across Africa, European colonisers have long since been driven out. Those who advocated apartheid are now governed by those they despised for generations. Certainly, Western influence is unrecognisable to what it once was in Africa, and that has allowed new forces to emerge. But the role of these countries in the new ‘Scramble for Africa’ need not hold the negative connotations as did its predecessor. China, as well as the other BRICS, are out for their own gain, there is no doubt about that, but it doesn’t mean that Africa cannot benefit along the way.

 

Bibliography

Carmody, P.R. (2011) The new scramble for Africa. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Mbaye, S. (2011) Africa will not put up with a colonialist china. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/feb/07/china-exploitation-africa-industry (Accessed: 30 December 2016).
Moyo, D. (2010) Dead aid: Why aid makes things worse and how there is another way for Africa. London: Penguin Books.
Mulupi, D. (2016) All is not lost for BRICS-Africa despite recent challenges. Available at: http://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com/not-lost-brics-africa-despite-recent-challenges/ (Accessed: 29 December 2016).
Poplak, R. (2016) The new scramble for Africa: How china became the partner of choice. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2016/dec/22/the-new-scramble-for-africa-how-china-became-the-partner-of-choice (Accessed: 29 December 2016).
Smith, D. (2013) South Africa: More of a briquette than a Bric? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/24/south-africa-bric-developing-economy (Accessed: 29 December 2016).

 

 

How Coca-Cola can save the world.

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Zambian child holding the contents of an AidPod

Particularly during the last few decades, the soft drinks manufacturing company Coca-Cola has found itself embroiled in countless cases of egregious offences; stealing water, poisoning land and selling drinks laced with dangerous pesticides (Stecklow, 2005) to name a few.

Despite these atrocities, Coca-Cola can save the world.

Well, to a certain extent at least; it has the potential to greatly lower infant mortality rates, consequently lifting millions out of poverty. And it will involve virtually none of the company’s own doing; one small scale non-governmental organisation (NGO) has the potential to make use of Coca-Cola’s vast supply network where the soft drink giant had neither the vision nor will to do the same. ‘ColaLife’ is based on the infuriating paradox that Coca-Cola is often found more commonly across the developed world than clean water or medicine.

The ColaLife movement is based on three observations:

  • You can buy a Coca-Cola drink almost anywhere you go in the world, even in the most remote parts of developing countries.
  • In these same places 1 in 9 children die before their fifth birthday from preventable causes. Diarrhoea is the second biggest killer, globally.
  • Child mortality is still unacceptably high, despite the Millennium Development Goals set for 2015. In most developing countries less than 1% of children have ready access to simple, affordable, life-saving treatments like ORS and Zinc for diarrhoea – a global recommendation for a decade. (ColaLife 2009)

 

The idea revolves around a wedge shaped pod (AidPod) that fits in between the bottles of a crate of Coca-Cola. The MNC distributes to most parts of the world, including rural areas, so the idea is utilising a pre-existing distribution network. Within this pod there could be a number of vital medicines and antibiotics, as well as informative leaflets and contraception, to help those who need them most, and potentially would find it very difficult to otherwise gain access to them. ColaLife is in discussion with local partners in Zambia – including both Coca-Cola and the bottlers SAB Miller – to develop a pilot. The AidPods currently carry diarrhoea treatment kits – but could in future be developed to contain, for example, the ‘polypill’ to tackle Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). (Hancock, Kingo, and Reynaud, 2011)

It’s unquestionably a smart idea; the utilisation of pre-existing trade networks mean that goals can be accomplished, vital medicine distributed without great financial cost. However, it must be recognised that this is still very much a small-scale NGO, and held back by a number of factors outside of its control, such as a reliance on where the Coca-Cola deliveries are destined. So the most remote areas are likely to be overlooked, no matter how broad the service area. Although, secondary supply chains may be able to solve this problem. In developing countries, transport costs can be 40% of medicine costs, so any scheme that brings this down will increase the number of people that can access it.

It’s important to note that ColaLife is just one of the medical operations that Coca-Cola has enhanced. Drawing from its well of experience with distribution in developing countries, Coca-Cola is training people in non-profit enterprise and even government agencies to use its business tactics to improve their supply chains. (Goodier, 2015)

ColaLife is an example of technological development, and an operational NGO based in the global south. It’s an example that the best innovations need not be prohibitively expensive nor hugely sophisticated – the most effective are often simple and affordable. Whether it can save the world is admittedly another question. Currently, the NGO is still far too small-scale to have much of a global impact, but if the concept was scaled up, making use of Coca-Cola (and others) networks across the developed world, then it’s far more likely that change would be seen. Clearly, the success of such ventures is hugely reliant on the goodwill of the private sector and their distribution chain. But the benefits to Coca-Cola’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) would undoubtedly be huge. ColaLife still lends legitimacy to a company that markets some unhealthy products from which it makes huge profits while stoking obesity and diabetes epidemics. (Berry et al., 2015) These companies are criticised almost daily in the media, and usually rightly so, but their grip on global markets could be harnessed by the likes of ColaLife and other development actors to facilitate real change from the most unlikely of sources.

 

Bibliography

ColaLife (2009) About ColaLife. Available at: http://www.colalife.org/about/colalife-about/ (Accessed: 30 December 2016).
Berry, S., Berry, J., Ramchandani, R., Spencer, N., ColaLife, C., Foundation, K.Z., Lusaka, Bloomberg, J.H., States, U. and Studies, S. (2015) “Should we welcome multinational companies’ involvement in programmes to improve child health?,” Head to Head, 350, p. 3046. doi: 10.1136/bmj.h3046.
Goodier, R. 2015, “What startups and governments can learn from Coca-Cola”, Appropriate Technology, vol. 42, no. 3, pp. 59-61.
Hancock, C., Kingo, L. and Raynaud, O. (2011) “The private sector, international development and NCDs,” Globalization and Health, 7(1), p. 23. doi: 10.1186/1744-8603-7-23.
Stecklow, S. (2005) How a global web of activists gives coke problems in India. Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB111809496051452182 (Accessed: 30 December 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is development?

Surrounded by technology from an early age, it was almost impossible to ignore the jarring inequalities and poverty throughout the world, due to the representation of such issues more than daily via the media. This sparked my interest in the social sciences and more specifically those concerned with International Development. However, when asked by my peers to explain the concept of development, I initially found it difficult to respond. Put simply, there is no straightforward way to explain what development is, no short answer as such. This is because there are so many contrasting interpretations to development, views that have evolved over time.

Historically, development always reflected western ideas of economic progress, the idea that economic growth symbolised the way in which a country was developing. It is difficult to deny that this idea has worked for most of the developed world, however there have been cases of different approaches proving successful; the socialist approach of Cuba resulted in a healthcare system (Lamrani, 2014) that was the envy of the west for many years. Clearly, western ideologies have not provided a solution for all, such is the abject poverty that still remains across large parts of the globe. A slightly controversial view for some is that of the post-development perspective, the idea that development in its current form is not working, and we are no further forward than we were half a century ago. A pioneer of this viewpoint is Dr Robert Chambers, who strongly believes in ‘immersions’, the idea that the best way for governments and organisations to gain a perspective on these people’s lives is to spend time living with them, consequently being able to more knowledgeably decide when and where to send aid, instead of simply “throwing money at the problem”.(Chambers, 2012) And arguably it is this method of giving aid that would go a long way in aiding development in the poorest countries. One of the most nonplussing articles I read recently explained how the UK government defended its decision to give £1.2bn in aid to India (Guardian, 2011), despite the rapidly increasing wealth of the emerging economic giant. This is the same India that spends $31.5bn on its defence budget and $1.25bn on a space programme, when it is also home to a third of the world’s poor (Bunting, 2011) – more than all those designated as poor living in sub-Saharan Africa. It is politically motivated aid such as this that has largely contributed to the stalling of development across the world over the last few decades – over the last 30 years, the most aid dependent countries have experienced an economic decline of 0.2% a year. (Moyo, 2010) For example, The UK government officially ended tied aid, where aid is given on the premise of receiving something in return, well over a decade ago (BBC, 2000). However, it would be naive to suggest that the UK, along with most other Western aid donors, do not hope to benefit from the giving of aid in certain situations. International development minister Andrew Mitchell admitted that the decision to spend £1.2bn in aid over the period of five years was part of a broader partnership that also included the hoped-for sale of fighter jets to India. (Buncombe, 2011)

Of course, development should not only be judged economically. Over time, ‘development’ has taken on many new meanings and rather than being simply an economic construct, for some it should also include social (i.e the contentment of society), political (i.e the level of corruption in a government or lack thereof) and environmental factors (i.e the commitment to global environment targets, and whether these are met). This is what makes development so difficult to define and pin down, it is unquestionably a fluid, ever-changing concept. Different development models have their strengths and weaknesses, and it largely depends on your viewpoint as to how you define development. On a personal level, I would define development as sustainable and socially equal progression. In today’s world, it is all too easy to be sceptical, and it is worthwhile to occasionally step back and look for a reason to remain positive.

 

Bibliography

BBC (2000) Government ends tied aid. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1064978.stm (Accessed: 30 December 2016).
Buncombe, A. (2011) Aid to India part of broad plan to build trade and investment, says minister. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/aid-to-india-part-of-broad-plan-to-build-trade-and-investment-says-minister-6278373.html (Accessed: 30 December 2016).
Bunting, M. (2011) Is India ready to refuse UK aid? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/jan/10/uk-aid-india (Accessed: 30 December 2016).
Chambers, R. (2012) Provocations for development. London, United Kingdom: Practical Action Publishing.
Guardian (2011) Government defends £1bn of aid to India. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2011/feb/14/government-defends-1bn-aid-india (Accessed: 30 December 2016).
Lamrani, S. (2014) Cuba’s health care system: A model for the world. Available at: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5649968 (Accessed: 30 December 2016).
Moyo, D. (2010) Dead aid: Why aid makes things worse and how there is another way for Africa. London: Penguin Books.