Poverty is the real enemy

Published: 30-SEP-04

It probably won�t make an iota of difference to the terminally narrow-minded Axis of Idiocy presided over by US President George W Bush and his British counterpart Tony Blair, but South African President Thabo Mbeki�s stinging reminder to the Western world about the real threats facing the world did not come a moment too soon.

In his recent address to the United Nations General Assembly, Mr Mbeki articulated the feelings of billions of people across the world when he said that the greatest threat facing the world today is not terrorism, but poverty and underdevelopment.

�I am certain that if we say to those affected by violence and war that we have made a good beginning towards the establishment of a just and lasting peace all over the world, they will not believe us,� said Mr Mbeki.

�I am equally certain that if we say to those who, every day, go to bed hungry, that we have made a good beginning towards freeing the entire race from want, they will also not believe us.�

There�s no doubt that world leaders have failed miserably in meeting the goals of the UN Millennium Declaration of 2000, which set targets in line with a development agenda. But the UN is so caught up with the so-called terrorism and instability in Iraq that very little is likely to be done about it right now.

Bush talks about nations �acting together to extend freedom and democracy to countries gripped by tyranny�.

Fact is, he wouldn�t know freedom and democracy if it slapped him with a wet fish. Instead of pausing to wonder why the US is so hated by elements of the developing world, he rides roughshod over human rights to get his hands on other countries� resources.

Right now, parts of Africa are embroiled in conflict which makes Iraq look like a tea party. If Bush were so committed to democracy, he would have deposed half the leaders in Africa by now under some fictitious guise like searching for weapons of mass destruction � the very same weapons the US has in abundance.

There�s no doubt that Saddam Hussein is a bad man who perpetrated screaming atrocities against his own people. But there are plenty of African leaders � no names, no pack drill � who have done the same, and will continue to do so with impunity for as long as they don�t have any oil the US would like to get its hands on.

Back to Mr Mbeki, though, who cut a bit of a lone figure as he said he believed the reason why the vision of a world of peace and shared prosperity had not been met lay in the fact that �we have, as yet, not seriously confronted the difficult issues that relate to the uses and perhaps the abuses of power�.

He spoke compellingly of the widening imbalance between rich and poor countries, saying contemporary society was characterised by gross imbalances in the distribution of power.

Perhaps it is time, as Mr Mbeki suggests, to stop relying on the powerful. It is perhaps time that �we, the poor and powerless, abandon our wheelchairs and begin to walk unaided�. The silence from his fellow African leaders was deafening. Where was UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan? Where was Nigeria�s Obasanjo? It was too much like the sound of one hand clapping. If only Mr Mbeki would be so decisive at home, where he has sat back and allowed what is tantamount to electoral fraud by allowing the noxious practice of floor-crossing under his nose.

In South Africa�s elections earlier this year, some 250 000 people voted for the ailing New National Party (NNP) of the ultimate political opportunist, Marthinus van Schalkwyk. If they had wanted to vote for the ruling ANC, they would have surely done so. Instead, they have been effectively disenfranchised through the NNP�s decision to merge with the ANC.

The same goes for each and every unscrupulous politician who to took it upon themselves to make free with the votes of the common man in the street by crossing the floor to another party. It is all ostensibly legal, because a bunch of politicians said so, but the nett effect is exactly the same as if they stuffed ballot boxes. The message to the electorate is clear: it doesn�t really matter what you think, because we know better.

While that�s the level of democracy we allow ourselves, our people will continue to starve while the hawks make war, not peace.

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