The Government have announced a suspension to the foreign aid Britain sends to Rwanda. Ostensibly, this is a result of the Rwanandan government’s continued support of rebel groups in neighbouring Congo, most notably the M23 group.
But is this really the right thing to do? Isn’t it better to keep a degree of influence over questionable governments, and hopefully steer their actions? Or (and whisper this quietly) should we discreetly encourage some local strongmen if it serves our interests?
Whatever your views on foreign aid (an excellent article on the subject can be found here) the fact is, what happens in the rest of the world effects us here in Britain. Directly. Everyday. Crime in Mexico means more drugs in Manchester. Ethnic tensions in Kosovo mean more refugees in Kent. Factories closing in Shanghii mean job losses in Swansea.
But as Brits it’s easy to be more than a little complacent about the world. We go to the shops, there’s affordable food there. We flick a light switch, there’s power. We can drive to the next town without having to pass through rebel held road block. The money in our wallets is worth what it was yesterday. And I’m reasonably sure there won’t be a military coup this evening. And as British consumers, we have available to us a market place hitherto unknown in history of the globe. While you’re reading this, you could be shopping for cutlery from Calcutta, a wardrobe from Wyoming, and yes, even a tie from Thailand.
And as an urban, modern Brit, you’ll (probably) believe in personal dignity, the inhumanity of exploitation, the immorality of tyrants, and other warm mushy stuff. Good for you.
But the dirty little secret propping up our cushy lives is that it’s built on a combination of moral relativism and naked self-interests. Because for us to be able to get a £3 pair of jeans and banana’s all year round, we need three things
-A stable commodities market
-Secure transport routes
-A vast global supply of cheap labour
-Political stability in the countries of origin
A really good way to get these is to conspire with some very dodgy governments and company practices across the globe. Think it doesn’t happen? Think again.
-Oil rich Bahrain is systematically extinguishing the Arab Spring inspired democracy movement, with the help of it’s even richer, even more oppressive neighbour Saudi Arabia. Would you protest outside either embassy? Probably not.
-Coltan, essential for mobile phones, is mined by hand in Congo, often at gun point. But would that stop you getting an upgrade when your current phone is only a year old? Probably not.
-Meat has never been so cheap. But all those extra cows have to graze somewhere, and that somewhere is the vast tracks of Brazil that used to be rainforest. Are you going to go vegetarian? Probably not.
Of course in an ideal world there would be a few more countries like Holland and a few less like Azerbaijan. But this isn’t an ideal world, so we make deals. That’s how the game is played. Oh you can wring your hands about Syria, and ‘like’ a Facebook page about a pro-democracy movement somewhere. But the fact is you’re complicit in world order that puts well stocked shelves in the West above all else.
I don’t encourage violent crackdowns by brutal tyrants, but they don’t bother me either. For me, regional stability is more important than other people’s freedoms. I’d take tea with the Burmese Junta, and I’d shake hands with Iranian Mullahs. Put bluntly, I’m a callous piece of work, safely ensconced on my island of plenty…..but to a greater or lesser extent, so are you.