Africa and Oxfam.

Both are plagued by something; Africa is widely considered the world’s rusting drain pipe of poverty and only 64% of Oxfam’s funds actually go directly to charitable projects.
But Oxfam is not the only supposed charitable NGO with a problem – it is certainly the case that many others hinder the progress of Africa – but isn’t the continent experiencing growing prosperity? In 2013, Africa was no doubt celebrating the fact that its economic growth was the fastest in the world with GDP growth rates of 6% for some its countries, a growing middle class now equating a third of the continent’s population of just over a billion and rapidly falling rates of those living below the poverty line from 51% in 2005 to 39% in 2012.
So why do all these articles and television advertisements insist on insinuating the continent is one massive wasteland with starved poverty stricken people? And yes, it exists, but it is crucial to separate the fact Africa is a continent, not a country. We can point the stick towards the United States; richest country in the world that still likes to ignore that one in seven people live below the poverty line and over a fifth of American children under 18 live in poverty. The United States is not plagued by the poorest areas of the world like the Congo. So really, should we not we be seeing more of Oxfam publishing heart wrenching pictures of homeless Americans struggling in likes of Detroit?
Well there is no funding in that, it is better to exploit children from a continent with a reputation. In fact, a lot of it ends up in their pockets; in 2013/14 Oxfam’s top boss claimed £25,000 (£35,000 for 2012/13) in expenses. What about those children in bare feet running after vehicles as the camera zooms away? They are such the poster of Africa that people have adopted that phrase “think of all those children in Africa” when food is left on the plate.

From the times of colonisation by Europe, its seems that a continent so vital to the success of the rest of the world, rich in abundant resources, has been pulled apart and exploited ever since – NGOs included – doing the work that governments should be doing themselves. Perhaps if certain groups did actually provide suitable aid and not just pretend, some would look upon organisations like Oxfam more favourably.

But it is definitely not a good thing to write all NGOs off. There are projects that are absolutely crucial to the wellbeing of Africa’s poorest, without which, it would be completely helpless. But it is nevertheless important to realise that massive international organisations are not the people to chuck your money at. There are plenty of smaller organisations that are a whole lot more beneficial, where the money is invested honestly, coming from the heart of the people themselves.

In 2012, academics at the University of Bristol conducted research on the “demographic consequences of rural intervention initiatives”. With aid such as the installation of water pumps introduced in rural areas of Ethiopia, they found falling infant mortality rates equated to an “explosion” of urban living as resources were strained and more people moved to cities in search of work. Many had to succumb to living in slums. Now with increased external intervention in development, it is clear that consequences should be strongly considered and handled by those with an understanding of this continent.  This is where governments should step in. Instead, the elites are being excused from their duties by these NGOs doing the work for them, while the divide in wealth remains astonishing. If certain groups left, governments might just take responsibility and steps towards the establishment of welfare states across the continent, and this might just accelerate the growing prosperity in Africa’s poorest countries.

Ultimately, it is important to crush this idea that Africa is poverty, defined. Africa is rich in resources, vibrancy, culture and beauty and its member states are on the rise economically. It is television and the media that distorts the picture of Africa we all receive; it is not all HIV/AIDs and dying children. But if you are going to donate because there are certainly those that need it, look more into who you donate to.

Maybe next year, skip Children in Need.


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