Simon Moss – Community education expert
I spend my time traveling around the country, traveling around the world, talking to people about the progress and challenges that the world faces, dealing with, what I say, is one of the biggest challenges to humanity. Which is the challenge that 1.3 billion people on our planet are struggling to get by.
Along the way, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with people, answered hundreds of questions. And today what I wanted to share with you were some of the misconceptions, some of the assumptions that I hear from people, and I wanted to try and challenge some of them, and I want to share with you some surprising facts, and insightful stories that, I think, mean that we can look at the issue of extreme poverty a little bit differently. I wanted to start with this myth, that many of us have heard, that Africa is poor.
First of all, I want to try and ask, “Where does that come from?” For generations, we have been brought up on photos, that look a little bit like this. We see them in the media, we see them in charity advertising. We have this sense that nothing ever changes, and that actually, Africa is a bit of a basket case.
Well, Africa’s actually 54 different countries. There’s a huge amount of diversity. And the time I’ve spent in Africa, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, doesn’t look like this at all. It looks a lot more like this. Because Africa is a continent that is full of amazing people doing amazing things. And although we might not hear all of the story a lot of the time, we should actually be really impressed with the progress the Africans themselves are making. And be asking the question, “What can we do to get in behind and support?”
And I’m proud to say, actually, the people in our country, they’re generally pretty generous. The foreign aid that we give, all around the world, to Africa, is about 50 billion US dollars a year. That’s a lot of money. A lot of people have said, “But it never makes any difference,” and it’s important to recognize that, actually, aid to Africa, isn’t really that much money. Remittances, money sent home by Africans themselves, working overseas, are about another 40 billion dollars a year. And you add those two things together, 90 billion dollars, and you’re still well short of the roughly 400 billion dollars a year that predominantly leaves Africa in the form of natural resources.
The question of, “Why is Africa poor?”, I think, is the wrong one. The one I’m more interested in is, “Why are there so many people in Africa still living in poverty?” If we take a step back from a yearly figure like this, we can actually see that over the last 40 years or so, some 18 trillion dollars worth of money has left Africa when it probably shouldn’t have. This is a report that was put together last year by a group called Global Financial Integrity. What they found was that vast amounts of money leave Africa, and come here. The City of London is one of the largest financial centers of the world.
The centers of Europe are also where this money goes. And the challenge, I think, we’ve got to face, is asking ourselves, “What is our role, as citizens in a country like the United Kingdom, in doing something about this?” Because actually, the money that helps buy things like this, which is the 21 million pound mansion owned by Equatorial Guinea’s Agricultural Minister Teodorin Obiang, is I think a really important one. Teodorín, lives in a country where 70% of people live on less 2 two dollars a day. How he can justify spending some of his and his country’s money, on this house, on his two Bugatti Veyrons, on a golf course, on a nice swimming pool, is a little bit beyond me. What’s also beyond me is the fact that, actually, he puts his money in our banks.
And we don’t seem to see fit to ask some tough questions about that. So if we’re serious about trying to see what we can do about poverty in a place like Africa, let’s stop thinking that Africa, the continent, is poor. And start thinking what is it beyond just aid that we can do that is going to help us actually address some of these issues. That leads me to a second myth, something that I hear all the time, which is this idea that poverty is getting worse. And I think it’s fair to say that actually, it’s just not true.
The World Bank put together the world’s global figures on how extreme poverty is going, and in fact, they did their figures last week. And since 1981, roughly 30 years ago, the world has halved the proportion of the population living in extreme poverty. From 52 % of the world’s population, down to just 25% in 2005. And this week, it was updated to say that actually it’s down to 22 % about 13 billion people.
This is a huge success story, something that we often don’t hear about, and something, I think, we should be incredibly proud of. Because if we ask ourselves a question, “Well, how did this happen?”, we did it by doing things like using the aid that countries like ours gave, but also the hard work of people all around the world, to do things like completely eradicate a disease like smallpox. We’ve contained a disease like polio, which my mother had, by 99%. We’ve cut diphtheria rates. We’ve cut measles deaths in Africa by 93% in just the last ten years.
We’ve cut tetanus rates by 85%. These are actually phenomenal achievements, and I wanted to take a moment, just to take a step back, and realize, just how important it is, that these changes are taking place.