Globalization more than economic progress

  • November 2, 2007
{mosimage}TORONTO - When Jesuit Father Peter Henriot arrived in Zambia 19 years ago life expectancy in the landlocked, southern African country was a rather dismal 52 years. Today Zambians can expect to be dead by 37.

The premature deaths that sustain that statistic have obvious and undeniable causes, Henriot told The Catholic Register in Toronto Oct. 26. First and foremost, there’s the desperate poverty of more than 70 per cent of Zambians. For the majority, food, water and a safe place to sleep are open questions every day.

Then there’s 17-per-cent AIDS and HIV prevalence. Combine that with the collapse of public  health care, public education and just about every other government service in the 1980s and ’90s. Basic public services disappeared when the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and others urged Zambia to take drastic measures to reform its economy and reduce its crushing international debt burden, which reached more than $6 billion when the country qualified for the Highly Indebted Poor Countries program in 2000.

Zambia’s debt problem began when copper prices went into a two-decade slump in the 1970s. Zambia’s copper mines were almost the only way the former British colony earned hard currency on international markets, and the industry was plagued by chronic under-investment. The sort of companies that would invest in copper in Zambia were the sort that would dump toxic waste into people’s drinking water, said Henriot.

Every attempt to diversify Zambia’s economy has been cut off by United States and European trade barriers that make it next to impossible for African agriculture to compete on world markets. Zambia grows quality cotton, but can’t sell it.

 The easy and familiar answer to why Zambia’s death rate has climbed and its average life expectancy plummeted is globalization. But Henriot did not tell Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace groups to oppose globalization as he toured Canada meeting with groups who are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Canadian international development agency. If Development and Peace looks at today’s economy through the eyes of Catholic social teaching, and especially through the lens of Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio, Henriot concludes they will  embrace globalization.

True globalization isn’t just economic, said Henriot.

“It’s beyond the economic and political interdependence,” he said. “We’re ethically interconnected.”

If globalization is necessary and inevitable, then economic progress everywhere is ethically connected to development in countries like Zambia, said Henriot.

But that’s only true as long as we’re talking about people and not just numbers, he said.

While Zambia’s life expectancy has dropped, the country’s economic indicators have turned around. The numbers — Gross Domestic Income, investment, etc. — are looking up.

Aid agencies like Development and Peace are unlikely to change the basic economics that drive poverty in Africa, but that’s not their purpose, said Henriot. Catholic social teaching is about the relations between people, and Development and Peace exists to make the idea of solidarity real.

“Development and Peace needs to constantly link to people,” he said. “We are a people organization.”

Ultimately Africans will solve African economic and political problems, but they need to do it in the context of international solidarity, Henriot said.

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