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An Ethiopian woman's musings on Africa, the world and everything in between

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        Thursday, July 05, 2007
        Replacing the old "North-South" lens
        The sad thing about development discourse is that it can be boring because hardly any new brain-shattering idea. Here is an idea that I think is excitingly fresh.

        The idea is Jon Tinker's, he founder of EarthScan which later became Panos. He argues for replacing the old lens through which western countries see development.
        The rich-country development lobby still wears 50-year-old eyeglasses. We still talk about 'the North' and 'the South', concepts rooted in the Third World and non-aligned analyses of the 1950s.

        This 'Us-Them' lens promotes alienation. It reinforces the stereotype that 'the South' is a different planet, where people are accustomed to poverty and disease, and incapable of organising themselves. It implies lower standards for misery and human rights in 'the South'.

        And this archaic mindset also encourages lazy, self-serving thinking among rich-world NGOs. We preach partnership, but use our 'partners' mainly to raise our own credibility and funding. We still parachute our 'experts' into 'the South', although many, perhaps most, 'Southern' NGOs are now more professional than ourselves.

        Can Canadian NGOs honestly do 'capacity-building' in India, or 'training' in Senegal?

        Maybe development education needs to focus on commonalities instead of differences - including seeing the marginalised and deprived in all our societies. (my own emphasis)
        Panos Canada is experimenting with a program called AIDS in Two Cities
        in Vancouver, Canada and Port au Prince, Haiti. What they are finding is how similar the issues around aids are in these two cities.

        Perhaps, if new lenses were available, the level of poverty that Hurricane Katrina exposed in the southern states of the US wouldn't have been so shocking after all. Since coming to America, the biggest shocker to me is the level of poverty which is allowed and ignored in this country. I must have been disillusioned about western countries by The Netherlands, where the government (hugely supported by the people) bends backwards, almost breaking the system, to eliminate ghettos and segregation.

        I did my share of musings, rantings and ravings and sheer disbelief about similarities between poverty in the US and African countries. But, I'm happy that somebody else has put it eloquently and is actually doing something about it. Therefore, my knew song is going to be "Gone be the old lens". I'm, by the way, nominating Jon Tinker to be the next UN Chief until the position of Global President opens up.

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