Thursday, March 17, 2005

Write a Cheque, Feed a Tyrant

You know who Bono is, right? He's the lead singer for the fabulously successful rock band U2. Most of the time he sings. And, boy, is he good at it. However, he also talks a lot. He's good at that too. The last few years he has taken it upon himself to be a sort of spokesperson for the poor nations of the world, asking the Western world to increase aid to them and forgive their debt.

In some ways he is like a modern day Robin Hood. He demands money from the so-called rich to give to the poor. And the rich give. Sadly, the poor often never see a cent. Rather, the money ends up in the pockets of the third world tyrants and genocidal maniacs that enslave and oppress the very people he wants to help.

Here we have a very wealthy rock singer with a social conscience. He claims to care a lot about the unfortunate in the world. It is not entirely clear, however, how much of his own millions he has given to them. Could be a lot. All I’m saying is, I haven’t seen the receipts.

So, what does this Irish lad do when he isn’t quaffing Guinness or driving in a limousine? Why, he travels around the third world extending a sympathetic ear to dictators and tyrants while bemoaning the lack of help they get from the Western world. Then he visits the Western world, stands on his MTV podium and tells us that we should give more Aid and forgive the debts incurred by these villains. If he’s made any requests for money to the rich Saudi Sheiks, I haven’t heard about it. Sometimes I wonder if the guilt he is selling is for the Western world only.

Does he really believe that, when debts are forgiven for nations like the Congo, Sudan, Cambodia or North Korea, these governments actually use the money they save to help their poor? I’d like to take his word on this but I’d feel better about it if he could show me an audit or something. Till then, I remain skeptical.

Anyway, it seems to me that the debts aren’t incurred by the people of the nations he is trying to help. Rather they are incurred and used by the very rich and very bad men who run the nations. Men who, all too often, use the borrowed money to hire more soldiers, kill more people and build more palaces. Some build nuclear weapons. Why should we believe that they wouldn’t use any forgiven debt windfall to do more of the same?

In North Korea, our good buddy, the benevolent and beloved leader Kim Jong II has a massive army which he arms, clothes and feeds. He uses the army mostly to enslave his people. He lives in Splendor. He holds massive, hugely expensive, celebrations in honor of himself. He claims to be in possession of nuclear missiles. Nuclear programs cost $billions. And, in the meanwhile, most citizens of North Korea live in poverty. Maybe North Korea could afford to feed its poor. Too bad we'll never know. All its money is spent satisfying the megalomaniacal desires of its leader. Meanwhile they beg for aid.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m reaching for my cheque book as I speak. Who do I make this out to – ‘Your Excellency Kim” or “the Omnipotent Deity Kim”? I want to get it right so the cheque won’t bounce. After all, I certainly wouldn’t want him to have to feed his own people with his own money. Better for us to just keep shipping money and food over there so he can use his own precious resources to do stuff that’s really important. – like imprisoning any North Korean who speaks out against him or maybe nuking Tokyo. (And, I wonder, if he does nuke someone, what responsibility will the aid givers have?)

You know, if Bono really wants to help the poor people of the world, maybe he should just use his public stage to draw attention to the dictators and tyrants of the world who are really at fault. Maybe he could try and shame them for what they’ve done instead of us for what we haven’t done. Maybe he could chastise the real villains for a change. Of course this wouldn’t be politically correct. And after all, everything that is wrong with the world is the fault of western capitalist imperialism. It’s an easy horse to flog. And flog it he does.

He could start by visiting Robert Mugabe. After all, that boy really needs a talking to. Then, after straightening things out in Zimbabwe, he could try a few other African Nations. I’m sure that all the leaders he is trying to help will welcome him with open arms, let him do a forensic audit, and then let him redirect money from their country’s armies and ruling class to feed their poor. Can I laugh now? Maybe I'll cry.

Look, I really don’t dislike Bono, in fact I think that he is a tremendously talented musician. (And he's Irish, that's a good thing.) But he is no global-political brainiac. I think he should take a long hard look at what he is doing. He may have the best of intentions, but it can be argued that he is actually doing more harm than good in the long run.

Nations that supply aid to and forgive the debts of countries run by shady leaders and oppressive governments take precious resources away from their own needy homeless, disabled and elderly people. And God knows we've got enough of those. So, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that every cent of foreign aid is used to help the victims, not the criminals. Any aid and debt relief must be accompanied by demands (demands - not requests) that the receiving nation take steps to reform their political and social systems. We work together with other Western countries on other things, why can’t we form a league of nations to provide aid and police the usage of the funds? (Some would say that the UN already serves this purpose. I would argue that if they were actually effective, more progress would have already been made.)

Now, I know that some people believe that we must help the poor and starving of the world regardless of the situation. I can only ask these people if they can measure the value of life against the value of freedom. How many lives can justify the freedom of future generations? Should we never act to free people, if in the course of giving them freedom, some die?

These are tough questions. Here I am, a nobody, living in comfy Canada. I certainly don’t have the right to make such decisions. But, still, they are decisions that have been, and will have to be, made by others. So, we have an obligation to at least think about these things and debate them.

Here’s the bottom line. If we cannot make sure the money we give is being used to benefit the poor, we should at least be honest with ourselves and admit that we are giving mainly to appease our own and Bono’s selfish conscience. Because, until we demand more of the recipient nations, we are just feeding the villains and facilitating the long term enslavement of their innocent subjects. And for that we have nothing to be proud of, regardless of how much we give.


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