One of the most polemic articles we’ve run at Matador has to be Richard Stupart’s 7 worst international aid ideas. He’s been at the same time lambasted and praised in the comments (300 and counting).

One thing he did do was spark an important conversation about Western ideas of aid in Africa. But all of the aid that we’re talking about here — volunteering, donating, feeding — is but a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. When you compare the kind of difference you could make by spending a couple months building a school to what Western multinational companies and governments are stealing from Africa, the notion of “every little thing helps” starts to sound like a big fucking joke.

It’s like using a teaspoon to bail out a boat while someone stands behind you with a hose pouring water into it.

After watching Stealing Africa (above) by the Why Poverty? project, I have to wonder why documentaries like this have little to no meaningful effect on the subjects they expose. How do companies like Glencore — who manipulates stock prices by trading between its subsidiaries, who then sell for high profits in tax havens (transfer pricing), thus avoiding paying taxes — continue to operate with impunity? How do people like Marc Rich — who defrauded the American government of (at the time) the most tax dollars in US history, then fled the country and was the FBI’s most wanted white-collar criminal — get granted a pardon by Bill Clinton?

“We in the Western countries have created the mechanisms by which this money flows, and it flows into our own coffers; therefore, we have as much responsibility as the poor countries to try to curtail this phenomenon.” ~ from Stealing Africa

Through a combination of greedy investors, corrupt politicians, and international laws that are either easy to manipulate or unenforcable, resources are being extracted from Africa by the Western world, and the countries from which those resources are being taken are not getting their fair share in the form of tax dollars. In the last 10 years, US $29 billion in copper was extracted from Zambia, yet it’s one of the 20 poorest nations in the world. These are tax dollars that would go a long way in developing the local economy, providing education and healthcare, and reducing poverty.

Through data from 2006, economists at the Norwegian embassy calculated that while the value of Zambian exports was $3 billion, only $50 million went to the Zambian government. On top of this, the Zambian government was contracted to provide up to $150 million worth of electricity to the mining operations, resulting in a net loss.

Many of the commenters in Richard’s article took the stance that rather than complaining about it, he should be doing something about it (“at least they’re doing something!” was a common response). I may get the same sort of feedback here, but spreading information and sparking conversation is doing something. We need to empower ourselves with knowledge and the ability to think critically. How can I reconcile donating $100 to an African charity while a corporation cheats a country out of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars?

In regards to African aid, this documentary gives me a pretty good idea of where we, as the Western world, need to start.

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