by Elli Nieminen
I’m a Finnish student from Diaconia University of Applied Sciences and I have what some might call an unhealthy obsession with Africa. I’ve worked in HIV/AIDS –project in Zambia (2006), and I’ve done internships in street children work in Swaziland (2008) and in Ghana (2009). The experiences have made African development an interesting matter to me.
I just returned from Ghana a month ago, and I could say that the last visit to the continent was the most rewarding so far. I had a chance to see a lot, and I got a very tangible view on the developmental issues of the country. It raised new questions about the policies with which the West is taking part in Africa’s development. Development is always a complex process, and it can’t happen with conditions of any other quarter but the one that’s developing.
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have become central objectives for all countries, UN agencies, donors, and international financial institutions in the fight against poverty and the promotion of development. And in fact, they do offer good guidelines, because they recognize the complex nature of development. Goals are a wide selection of targets to be achieved by 2015, and all the goals are closely connected to each other. Everything affects everything.
One of my Ghanaian friends lost her baby girl when I was in Ghana. The baby died of malaria. It made me think about the MDGs. Goal 4 is to reduce child mortality and goal 6 is to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases. It’s quite understandable if people have a lot of children when they know that there is a high possibility of losing some of them. Children are a safety net in a country where there is no public social security. However, having a lot of children can deepen poverty in families: parents don’t have financial means to feed or educate their children. Goal 1 is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, and Goal 2 is to achieve universal primary education.
MDGs also emphasize a global partnership for development (goal 8). However, the focus seems to be on financial aid and trade whereas open communication and pursuit of cultural understanding have been forgotten. The key to international cooperation in development is to understand and respect the tremendous meaning of cultural and social contexts. The West can’t promote development from its own starting points, objectives or conditions – which still is a reality in most cases – or else the development is not sustainable nor ethical. Accepting the West controlling development is an international agreement on western cultures and societies being superior to others (a form of neocolonialism) or underestimating the role of culture. Manifold cooperation and financial aid are needed but don’t give the West the right to dictate the terms.
It’s also important to understand development as a two-way process not only financially but culturally. We – the Western world – who often feel superior in many ways, should think about the challenges we are facing, and whether comparing our cultures to others could explain, why we are facing them. Why is it that mental health problems, especially among young people, are constantly increasing in Finland? Could it be that people living in affluent societies can actually feel ill because seeking for maximization of financial welfare, consumption and demands for efficiency have gone too far? Development is needed everywhere, but in some parts of the world, development should be understood as a decline.