I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke
The recent political unrest in predominantly Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East has seemed like a stack of dominoes falling. The dictatorships of Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya: they all fall down like toy soldiers. Of course, some people in the United States have been terribly alarmed at these turns of events. It is disturbing, but it’s also refreshing, isn’t it?
These people have been under the rule of brutal regimes in some cases. In all cases they have been subject to economic hardship that maybe even the poorest of those of us in the United States would not be able to comprehend. The countries are overpopulated, and their young people cannot find work. In fact, I’ve read recently that the Muslim population of the world is the fastest growing population in the world.
What’s worse is that in many of these countries our government has been complicit in keeping these people under the thumb of tyranny. We’ve supported inept, corrupt leaders who were guilty of countless human rights violations in order to ensure that we had someone in power who supported American interests.
A lot of things I’ve read recently have been coming together for me with a click. I’ve read about our government’s enslaving poor nations into crippling debt. I’ve read about Arab people all over the world having economic difficulties. I’ve read about political unrest in predominantly Muslim nations. How much of the political unrest do you think comes from political and economic oppression?
I’ve read about people in these countries demonstrating for democracy, for the right to be heard and for their concerns to be validated. I’ve read about many of these people being women, and there’s been more than one article written about the feminists in Tahrir square, as well as how the Muslim Brotherhood held hands to form a bond of chains around the women so that they could protest alongside the men safely.
I read an excellent Newsweek article on Hillary Clinton and her tenure as Secretary of State and how she champions women’s rights globally. I saw an interview with Melinda Gates about how empowering women in third world countries provides further opportunities for both women and men alike. I read Half the Sky where women who were the benefactors of microfunding produced profits for their investors and themselves. They became entrepreneurs and created income for others. There’s no reason why the same model, with maybe a few tweaks, can’t work for men as well.
I read an article in The New Yorker about Mo Ibrahim, a multi-billionaire Sudanese Muslim businessman who made his fortune in the cell phone industry. He retired to start his own charitable foundation that now bestows a prize to any leaving African political leader who has made a significantly positive contribution to his society. For the last two years it’s been awarded to no one because no one was deemed worthy of the prize.
Ibrahim’s foundation keeps records on African countries and their rulers. The Ibrahim Index assigns a numerical score based on human rights, gender, sanitation and access to clean water, corruption, and economics among other categories. It then judges Africa’s leaders’ effectiveness based on these criterion.
China, India, and, indeed, all of Asia is undergoing enormous change. Economic opportunity abounds. This is nothing new. It’s been going on for decades. We’re on a cusp now of a real revolution in Africa and the Middle East as well. We can help these people flourish and encourage them in their efforts to define democracy for themselves. Or we can do what we’ve done in the past. We can covertly support their poverty and enslavement.
In the past the Western world has been reluctant to invest in this part of the world because it’s unstable. But is it poor because it’s unstable or is it unstable because it’s poor? Which came first? The chicken or the egg?
Most of these people don’t actually hate Americans, you know. They’re not really fond of our government – with good reason, I might add. But I think we might find, like Greg Mortenson did when he was nearly dying on the descent down from a mountain climbing expedition, that people are people.
We can win the war on terror, and we can win gender equality for women in countries where there is none. But we aren’t going to be able to win the war on terror with weapons. Remember that old saying? Kill them with kindness? We need to change our foreign policy, both as a government and as individuals. We need to invest in these countries and these people.
We need to throw our economic and political support behind the countries that meet a certain standard on the Ibrahim Index and withhold our support from those that don’t. We need to forgive the debt of African countries. We need to work in tandem with these people to create a sustainable environment of prosperity and invite women to participate. When men in these countries see tangible results from the efforts of women, when these results benefit them and result in more economic opportunities for them, then they won’t protest so loudly anymore.
I know this argument has a tendency to sound oversimplified, and no doubt it is greatly oversimplified and idealistic. But there’s something to the old Southern saying that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. We can’t just buy the world a Coke and teach them all to sing, but if someone bought you a Coke would you then be inclined to blow him up with an improvised explosive device? I wouldn’t.
Entry filed under: Current Events, Economy, Ethics, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Money and Finances, Politics, Prejudice, Women's Rights. Tags: Africa, Arab people, Middle East, Mo Ibrahim, Muslim, Muslim Brotherhood, Qur'an, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, United States, Western world.