August 13, 2007

Sesse Islands and the Dutch solution

I have just got back from my weekend trip to the Sesse Islands. As I've said before it does wonders to your mood just to get out of Kampala and breathe some fresh fresh air. The islands, even thought we only saw one, were beautiful. Sesse is a pretty special place in that there is a junglely forest just a few metres behind the pure white sands. The area is also dense with wildlife and the perfect place for the avid bird watcher. We camped at Hornbill which was a standard campsite teeming with weaver birds (Google it). After travelling on Saturday we spent Sunday walking and then reading (and mostly sleeping if I’m honest) in the hammocks.

The real reason that I am writing this is not to gloat about my relaxing weekend, well a little... but to tell you about the interesting Dutch owner of our campsite. Luke used to be an aid worker but he gave it all up 6 years ago and moved to Sesse. And somewhere along the line his whole attitude about how Uganda needs to be helped has changed. Luke believes that all the aid in Africa should be pulled out, that it should be left to fall into civil and inter country war and that millions should be left to suffer painful and inhuman deaths. His reasoning behind this is that Africa will never help itself when there is so much aid flooding in from the west. He also thinks that this is the only way that the population can be reduced, as the promotion of condoms and abstinence clearly aren't working. He believes that all religious input is negative and is destroying Africa by promoting large families. By letting Africa fall into complete chaos he believes that for the first time it will, in the aftermath, have a chance to rebuild itself without the bullying aid of the West (which has never been designed for the true aid of Africa but merely to keep Africa under Western influence). He also believes that in the state of war only the strongest Africans will survive, which will give the building blocks for the future of a strong Africa. Survival of the fittest if you will. 

Luke may have some points that deserve listening to. But I personally cannot see a grand difference between killing off what Luke seems to think are the 'chaff' - the Aids victims, the diseased, the unfortunate, the old, the villagers and the honest (as the corrupt will surely survive) and pulling out aid so that they die. I mean why not save 50 years by just exterminating them?! Perhaps these people are supposed to die, and that by keeping them alive 'artificially' we are weakening the chances of Africa's economic survival. But don't we do the same in the West by keeping our pensioners alive and kicking when cancer and other illnesses would have killed most of them off years ago? I cannot believe that the solution is to let people die on a mass scale. I think that a prolonged period in Africa has made Luke a pessimist and it is perhaps true that I have not yet spent a long enough time here to fully understand the difficulties. But he thinks that Africans aren't willing to learn and just seek aid from Westerns, this is in part true, but there are many who are desperate for the opportunity to be independent and have no desire to be reliant on the donations of the West. 

Whilst I agree that the African population is growing too quickly, this is ultimately a decision that rests with the African people. No one is telling the West to have more children, no one should be telling Africa to have less. If children were all you had, if there were an income, if there were each a 'blessing from God' wouldn't you want more?! As Africa becomes more economically developed I have no doubt that the birth rate will start falling. As the promotion of family planning becomes more prevalent the birth rate will begin to decline. When the transmission of HIV is more fully understood, then I am sure that, again, the birth rate will fall. I think that this is a more organic way of controlling the population that the Dutch solution.

It saddened me to think that Luke, after working in a humanitarian organisation, seemed to think that Africa was a lost cause, that the only solution was to start again, perhaps this is an easy way for a pessimist to justify giving up.

It is common to become frustrated here, and it is something that I have experienced first hand. But I sincerely hope that I don't give up and believe that it is pointless trying to help. I don't think that aid from the West is keeping Uganda poor. I believe that it is the government keeping Uganda poor. Museveni has enough personal wealth to resolve all of the problems with Ugandan's infrastructure. Instead the government has chosen to provide its people with a botched job for CHOGM. There are areas of Kampala that are going to be sprayed to become ‘malaria free’. Is this for the benefit of the poor in the slums who cannot afford preventative measures? Don’t be silly, it is for the rich potential investors who will visit for CHOGM. Luke is right about Western aid not being able to solve Uganda's problems but he is most definitely wrong about the solution. 


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