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UN High-level Meeting on Africa's Development
(FROM LEHIGH UNIVERSITY STUDENTS AND STAFF)
UN Trip Summary
January 14, 2010
Last week was the first time I had ever been to the United Nations so it was a huge experience for me. As a tourist, it was thrilling to walk around the historic landmark but it was even more exciting to walk through the guarded doors and take part in an actual UN function.
In terms of the material presented, I felt it was extremely eye opening. The common attitude towards world poverty is that it is due to factors such as unsuitable climates for growing food, governmental corruption, lack of work ethic, or simply lack of enough resources to go around. All of these factors are either minimal or outright incorrect. The real reason for poverty, as explained in the documentary is the systemic failure of the world economic system to provide for the needs of most of the globe.
Although poverty has always been a reality, the gross imbalances of wealth between nations that we see today are due to the legacy of colonialism. The relationship between colonies and the mother countries were detrimental for the colonies for two main reasons. The first is that the colonies were designed to produce a specific resource such as coffee, tobacco, or gold. This meant that they would not be self-sufficient because each colony had to rely on the rest of the system for basic necessities. Another disadvantage was the fact that the finished goods imported from the mother countries would always be much more expensive than the resources exported from the colonies. This is still evident today in the relationship between developing and wealthy nations. Germany, which does not have a single coffee plant, is the world’s leading exporter of ground coffee.
When the countries of the developing world achieved independence, these disadvantages prevented them from catching up with the richer nations. They were also forced to assume the debts of their colonial predecessors. More debts were accumulated through international aid. The despicable truth about international relief is that there is actually more money flowing from the poor countries to the rich ones to pay off debts than is flowing to the poor countries in the form of aid. In fact, because of loans from the World Bank, which must be paid back with interest, developing countries are actually poorer now than they were in the 1970s and the disparities in wealth between the rich and poor worlds has multiplied.
The documentary ended with some suggestions on how the obvious flaws in the world economy can be corrected. One is forgiving of developing country debts. It is illogical that international aid actually hurts the countries it is supposed to help. Another is the diversification of the economies of poor countries. This can be facilitated by allowing these countries higher tariff rates than other nations. Overall, the documentary was depressing in the realistic assessment of the world financial system but inspiring in providing ideas for change.