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The Great African Scandal :: The Progressive Torrents Community
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The Great African Scandal




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348.19 MB

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2007-09-26 17:55:25


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The Great African Scandal
September 24 2007
Broadcaster and theologian Robert Beckford's latest film, supported by Christian Aid, is a damning indictment on the West's economic policies towards Africa. Here he writes about how to start fighting the injustice of unfair trade policies:

As a theologian, justice and the ongoing fight for change are central to my writing, teaching and film-making.

Video: Beckford works with rice farmers


In 2005, having made 'The Empire Pays Back' - a film about the cumulative financial benefit of the slave trade to UK PLC over 200 years - I realised I wanted to make a 'sister' film which would look at present day Africa's relationship to the rich world.

I wanted to know what it would be like to experience life on a 'dollar a day', which is around the average national daily income in Ghana and more, to dig deep and understand why so many are forced to live on so little.

So, this year, with Christian Aid's support, I travelled to Ghana to make a film for Channel 4 in this its 50th anniversary of independence.

Potential riches

On paper, Ghana should be an African success story - rich in minerals, fertile, a stable democracy and free from conflict - so what would I find?

My journey began in the hot dry north of Ghana - in the small rice farming village of Gbirima.

I joined the men in their backbreaking effort to clear a new rice paddy. As we worked, they talked about how Ghana used to be nearly 50% sufficient in rice production, partly due to the help offered by government in the form of grants and subsidy.

Such was the success of the rice industry there was even a colloquial saying 'as rich as a rice farmer' that signified their prosperity.

But as I looked around me, 'rich as a rice farmer' was definitely not how it felt any more.

Enter the World Bank

And this was in no small thanks to more than 20 years of IMF and World Bank policies - macro-economic, free market driven -and in Ghana it meant a stop to state subsidies while at the same time opening its rice market to foreign competitors.

No surprise then that cheap rice flooded in, much of it subsidized by foreign governments, and Ghana's indigenous rice industry collapsed as it had no access to government protection or support. So, villages like Gbirima were left devastated and impoverished.

And there was more human tragedy as families lost their young daughters to the cities in search of work. Going in search of two girls from Gbirima I found them working in slum areas, at risk of their well being, somehow surviving in a place where no young woman should have to find herself trying to make a living.

Was this the net result of IMF and World Bank policies drawn up in Washington for Ghana's poor?

And foreign businesses are not setting a shining example of how to make trade work for the poorest either. Our film looks at Ghana's two prime commodities –gold and cocoa.

It seemed to me that those cocoa farmers included in the fair trade system see real benefits but for the rest it’s a very hard life.

Cocoa and gold

What’s more we discovered that even at a Fair Trade co-operative only 3% of the cocoa was purchased at the fair trade price. After 100 years of importing Ghana’s cocoa is that really the best that international companies can do? I was left thinking who is really profiting from the cocoa industry? In my opinion, it’s not the cocoa farmers.

Gold offered no better a story. We witnessed shocking conditions in the gold mining areas where people claim they are forced to live with dangerously high levels of pollution around the mines and where poverty drives men to mine illegally.

And in Accra, the former Ghanaian finance minister told me that the country received as little as 3 per cent of the profits from these mines.

I thought back to Bob Marley's assessment of the 'Babylon System’ - how economic systems work to quote Marley, 'suck the blood of the sufferers(poor) day by day.'

And so I wondered about 'independence'. I asked myself how - when bodies like the IMF and World Bank, or international businesses have such widespread influence and control - could Ghana exercise any economic independence at all?

Video: Time for a new struggle






Its need for loans - and aid - have meant their room for manoeuvre has been profoundly limited. I did wonder too, is it in the West's interest that we keep Ghana and many other nations like it, in economic dependency?

As someone who campaigned for the end of apartheid, I believe that a new African struggle is now needed - a new war of 'economic' independence.

And my experience made me understand - at first hand - why trade justice is so important in this effort. And it is why I will be working with Christian Aid over the coming year to engage more and more supporters who can work with us to see trade justice succeed.

Dr Robert Beckford is the Reader in Black Theology and Popular Culture at Oxford Brookes University. He is also a regular broadcaster with Channel 4 Religion.




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