Go right ahead, buy Africa a Ferrari

International aid charities have set up donation campaigns around Christmas, encouraging people to buy each other livestock or aid for the developing world, instead of say, socks or fruitcakes. At the Oxfam America Unwrapped site, you can donate boats, water trucks, mosquito nets, crocodiles (yes, really), money to start a business, and all sorts of other tools and services for people in developing countries, and save your relatives and the environment from unwanted and wasteful consumption. UK-based education and film-making charity WORLDwrite blames all that for Africa’s disappointing, “demeaning” Christmas haul. Reuters AlertNet and the BBC both reported on WORLDwrite head Ceri Dingle’s objections:

“Nobody’s offering washing machines. I’ve traveled all over the developing world, and people not only know what we have, they want what we have. Helping to make that possible is what development is all about.”

Yes, Ww and Ms. Dingle are upset that we’re not shipping washing machines to Africa. Don’t bother getting worked up at her, Oxfam’s stated the obvious for you:

“To insist on offering washing machines and other white goods luxury items to communities that have neither a plug socket nor a water supply shows complete lack of understanding of the communities we work with…Fifteen litres of water is required for one half-load of washing – the same basic amount that we are trying to achieve for one person per day to survive.”

The Ww slogan is “Ferraris for everyone”, meaning that they think we should help people develop by giving them all the things that rich, developed nations have, now. Put the reliable electric lines, power plants, plumbing, stable monetary system, available jobs, and big box stores on a boat, ship them across the ocean, plop them all down next to rural villages, and everyone will be happy! Before I get carried away into ranting, I’m going to cite a few decent points Ww makes, or at least links to their site (I had to dig for them, but at least I found a tiny basis to all this washing machine nonsense).

In one insightful section of a poorly-reasoned article on Oxfam’s program, one author points out that red tape mandated by the charity conflicts with actual use of the gifts- the need for accountability to the donors and general public causes Oxfam to implement burdensome monitoring procedures. Also, the procedures they use for determining what each community wants (chickens? hoes?) might not be as transparent to the community as they think. Reuters, the BBC, and this article all detail different opinions on this topic, with Oxfam always saying they work with people in the community directly to determine need. Me, I’m glad Oxfam knows what they’re giving and what it’s doing for people, but maybe they could ease up a bit too.

Another decent bit emerges from a completely anecdotal piece on how the Western world idealizes subsistence farming. The author points out that there may be organizations who, for the sake of low environmental impact, emphasize traditional, low yield farming techniques that keep everybody hungry and well, subsisting. Ok, sure, there are a few crazy environmental-type people who might make this mistake, but those people are a) crazy, and b) easily convinced with photographs of starving children that they’re wrong. Besides, not all low-impact farming is low-yield, and there’s no reason these groups can’t advocate good, long-term farming practices based on developed nations’ experience- so let’s champion that. Oxfam is blamed for perpetuating subsistence, since it offers hand tools for farmers, but not tractors. The author doesn’t acknowledge that tractors require fuel and skilled maintenance, neither of which are common in subsistence communities.

So, that’s a couple of things to consider when you buy that passel of baby chicks for your little cousin. Don’t worry about it too hard, but try to pick something entertaining and that won’t cause Ww to whine more. The Reuter’s article I cited above has a great list of non-Oxfam charities with gifts for all seasons- land mine defusing, teeshirts (shirt’s for you, donation’s for Africa), and other stuff (check out the crocodile).

Ww might have some good points, but they’re hidden in all their terrible, useless ideas. Next year, let’s test them: let them buy the farmers a Ferrari, and I’ll send some goats, and we’ll see which gift is more useful after three months. No matter how long you leave two Ferraris in a garage alone, they’ll never create a third Ferrari. And you can dismantle a broken car and sell it for parts, but you can sell a goat for parts (milk! cheese!) without dismantling it at all.

4 Responses to “Go right ahead, buy Africa a Ferrari”

  1. 1 Kestrel December 28, 2007 at 12:06 am

    When do I get a charity of my own to send ME chicks and hoes?

  2. 2 Biking Person December 28, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    you know… you can sell a goat for parts after dismantling it too!

    and I wonder if everyone in Ww has a Ferrari, since that’s the example they give… if so, they’re quite a bit different from the average person in most advanced, industrialized countries.

  3. 3 virescent December 28, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    Also goats go better with ketchup.

    The only cool thing about being undeveloped is the chance to develop more wisely than the western world has so far- taking our best practices, instead of our worst. Ww is advocating a goal of rampant consumerism for everyone as the solution to the world’s inequalities. I hope they’re being ironic.

  4. 4 Cameron January 2, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Great blog for me to read in a new year! I just re-watched Fight Club over the holidays, and love the idea of hitting reset in the “developed world”. Imagine someone who thinks that can’t live on anything less then 6 figures a year, forced to learn how to butcher a pig for meat to sell??? Getting the poor hooked on “the western dream” might be one of the most destructive (globally) initiatives since nuclear proliferation! Histories lessons learned….don’t be like the guy on top….cause the guy on top isn’t there for very long (Greek and Roman Empires, Ottoman Empire, Pre-WWI German and Russian Empire, Pre-WWII Japanese Empire, the Star Wars Empire…..The Empire Waist dress, ANYTHING that you can append Empire to!!!!!)!!

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