The following questions have been raised by volunteers working on this film project and in discussion with friends and colleagues. Volunteers have done some serious research to answer these questions, some of which is referred to here. These answers are not exhaustive and neither are the questions, but they do provide the basis for debate. If having watched the film you would like to add your questions and comments please
Why this film?
WORLDwrite made this film as part of its Pricking the Missionary Position Series, in the aftermath of all the buzz around Live 8 and the G8 meeting at Gleneagles. Having had longstanding partners in Ghana we visited initially to examine the impact of debt relief (the big deal decided at Gleneagles in 2005) a year on. What struck us was the huge gap between the low horizons enshrined in the debt relief deal which denies Ghanaians autonomy and provides no new money and the incredible aspirations Ghanaians have for their own future. We wanted to reflect this missing message and ensure the world knows there are eloquent, capable and even better off Ghanaians with big ideas who, given the resources, are able to make development happen.
What is the film's message?
With concise portraits we hope to subvert the usual pity-fest and suggest the transition from poverty to decent living standards does in fact happen and should be embraced. The development portrayed in this film is not a product of Western pity, Western interference or prescription or a result of little community health, sanitation and education schemes which are a Western obsession. Instead it is development that is African led and inspired and represents aspirations for the best of everything.
We hope also to raise questions about Western attitudes to better off individuals in the developing world. In doing so we seem to have raised many more questions, not least, the way Western disenchantment with economic growth influences our view of developing countries and leads us to prescribe what we think is best. The denial of political autonomy and economic freedom is thus back on the agenda but in a new ethical form. Born of Western self loathing particularly of affluence, we once more “take up the White Man's Burden” and treat developing countries as children who must “Do as we say-not as we have done”. These are ideas which this short but ambitious documentary seeks to question.
Rich people seem to become more westernised – if everyone is rich, won't Ghana become just like the West?
Maybe it will become like the West, maybe better, that is a matter for Ghanaians. What does being westernised mean? People live comfortable lives in big cities, with modern amenities, infrastructure, transport, cars, cheap food and plenty of choice from supermarkets to music shops, malls, cinemas, museums, theatres, galleries, restaurants and well kept parks. Is that so bad? We are the post scarcity generation, and unlike the rationing suffered by our great grandparents have much at our fingertips. We can even travel the world to see how the other half lives. It is hardly surprising then, if we see our fellow man as not so different, that people all over the world would like many of these things and an easier life. Shouldn't our end goal be to support our peers having these choices and chances? Shouldn't we celebrate when more and more people are able to benefit from these things? If Westernised means well off then why whinge about it.
Doesn't modern development destroy indigenous culture ?
Some people believe carrying water on your head for miles is a cultural tradition. People who have to endure such toil see it as a product of poverty and nothing to celebrate. Using ideas of so called ‘cultural difference' to justify a lack of development is outrageous. Perhaps some fear that if the world becomes wealthier, countries and communities will lose their uniqueness. Paris, London, Edinburgh, Tokyo, Amsterdam, New York, and Bangkok are all highly ‘Westernised' cities yet have their distinct features, hence we visit them. While Brits may love fish and chips ( and more recently Chicken Tikka Masala), how many teenagers love Morris dancing or have even heard of it? Culture is ever changing and surely it is up to people in developing countries to determine what they wish to preserve. Should we really treat the developing world as an exotic museum for us to preserve and shop from because we lack our own cultural innovation? This question demonstrates disenchantment with our own society and a desire to prescribe, because we are unhappy with what we have. Some argue we have made ‘mistakes' which we must ensure the developing world does not repeat. As WORLDwrite volunteer Millicent Kumeni from Ghana has argued, “If the development you have is a mistake, we want your mistakes!”
How important is personal wealth to development?
That depends. Personal wealth is often a reflection of wider development. It may be part and parcel of the way capitalism works and its inability to develop enough, fast enough. Personal wealth may be huge or it may be insignificant. It may be such that productively invested it can spur further wealth creation or not. Importantly for our film the issue here is our discomfort at seeing people who are better off in the developing world and our assumptions about them. Commonly we assume they may be corrupt, must not care about the poor around them and so on. Yet they are the sort of individuals all around us back home in the West who enjoy the trappings of modern amenities. When it comes to the developing world, they are people we see very few of on our screens as we focus on the poorest of the poor and images that tug the heart strings. Whether personal wealth assists wider development or not, is not a basis on which to judge whether it's a good or bad thing. Most people the world over would like to be well off, if some people make it, should we condemn them or work to ensure more join them?
Why are we so obsessed with grand desires like Jacuzzis, air-conditioning and sports cars?
Why would anyone settle for less than the best? Who would settle for a clapped out old car that won't go far if they could afford the best? Who wouldn't like a wonderful Jacuzzi or pool in the garden? Maybe there are those in the West who prefer a modest and meagre life, but that is a lifestyle choice. These days, a more meagre existence is often recommended for environmental reasons as we distrust human ingenuity and our capacity to solve problems while consistently improving living standards. In the West we have a diminished sense of what is possible for us all to have. Establishing that always demanding the best and looking for great and new things, whether luxuries or utilities, takes us in a better direction. One that means we demand the best for our peers and ourselves. One thing is certain, if we fight for a clapped out shed and that is our end goal we are unlikely to end up with great new homes.
Is it ethical to consume more (fuel, food, building materials, material goods etc.)?
Yes. Consuming less, means wanting less, creating less and having less. This will not assist the poor, who want to have far more and to create more. The environment is often cited as a reason for reducing our consumption in the west, yet it is our level of development and affluence which allows us to even consider preserving it and keeping it nice. In the developing world many people depend on nature directly which can be a nightmare- from respiratory problems cooking on smoky fires to building with mud. Ensuring fewer people have to depend on nature and are able to deal with its downside requires applying our ingenuity and better mastery of nature, not consuming less. Norway for example is effectively climate proof despite suffering temperature extremes precisely because of its level of development and wealth.
Isn't it ugly to focus on affluence when so many Africans are so poor?
No. If we want the poor to become affluent and not stay poor, then focussing on people making it, their dreams, aspirations, creative capacity and more is badly needed. One thing we can guarantee is the prevailing Western obsession with extreme poverty does the poor no favours as it includes no vision or desire to see the poor become rich.
Surely economic growth creates losers as well as winners, isn't it more important to ensure that wealth is spread more evenly?
As we have discovered in the West having some winners is good news for the winners and wouldn't we all like to be winners. The winners don't create the losers, the real problem is that we live in a society that has not developed enough for us all to realise our potential and have great things. An aspiration for us all to be winners is an important starting point if we want more development - for everyone to have more. Sharing ‘the cake' out more evenly misses the point as it doesn't address the need to create a constantly expanding cake. Spreading the wealth out more evenly is in fact a demand to have less, to share out the misery, to want less, consume less, feel less guilty and so on. What does that do for our peers? It certainly won't give them more than a few pennies and they want the works!
Isn't there a need for growth to be more prudent?
We all know capitalism has not provided the development for all we would like to see. Yet growth and industrial development has already had a huge impact in our own life time, massively increasing life expectancy across the globe and far more besides. Unfortunately today's anti-capitalists are very sceptical about growth and industry and very downbeat about the great advances that have been made. Isn't it better to celebrate the development we have, the progress that's been made and demand far more of it, to close the gap between rich and poor countries. Should growth be prudent? Arguing for massive growth not ‘prudent' growth might do our peers more favours.
Can you have development without economic growth?
If by economic growth we mean increased real income and consumption, in both absolute and per capita terms, then economic growth is the basis for development, producing more things and making people materially better off. Freeing people from toil and survival only living is what development is all about. Sadly we live in an age where development has been re-defined to mean all sorts of things, how literate we are, the state of our health, how happy we are, how democratic our societies are and so on. All of these matter but all can co-exist with poverty. We can be poor but happy, poor but literate, poor but live a long life, poor but healthy, poor but politically free and so on. So if we want to support North South equality we have to insist on material advance and not allow all these other things to provide an excuse for the existing state of the world and insufficient economic growth and development.
Isn't there more to life than material prosperity- after all affluence doesn't always make us happier?
Whatever our subjective feelings, the rise of mass affluence in the developed world has had huge objective benefits. Prosperity gives us the resources to live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives. Some argue that having more and wanting more will only ever make us unhappy as we'll always want the newest car and so on. In fact, one of the most positive qualities of human beings is that we often want more than we have got. We typically want the lives of our children and grandchildren to be better than our own. The fact that people are dissatisfied with their lot can in fact be seen as a healthy motive for change. Humanity has historically progressed by constantly trying to improve its position. As a result people are better off than ever before. In this sense unhappiness should be welcomed. It is a sign of ambition and a drive to progress rather than one of inherent misery. In contrast, those who make happiness their criterion for judging any society are promoting an essentially conservative message; that people should be happy with their lot. In addition the pursuit of happiness as a social goal – as opposed to being a personal matter – opens the way to authoritarian policies. It is a short jump to conclude that if we are not happy then the government must somehow ‘correct' our thinking. It should be up to individuals to decide if they want to pursue happiness as one of their personal goals. For society, the goal of greater economic growth, leading to an increase in popular prosperity, is a worthy one to follow.
(This answer has been compiled from Daniel Ben Ami's excellent essay
"There is no paradox of prosperity", a recommended read on
What are remittances?
Remittances are transfers of money by foreign workers to their home countries. The flow of funds from migrant workers back to their families in their home country is an important source of income for many people in developing countries. Although the exact amounts are uncertain because remittances are poorly tracked, the total value of remittances has been increasing steadily over the past decade and the World Bank estimated that in 2005 the total value worldwide was over $230bn, involving some 175 million migrants. This is more than twice the level of international aid. For some individual recipient countries, remittances may be as high as a third of GDP. The principal source of remittances to Ghana is North America (the United States and Canada), followed by the United Kingdom.
What can remittances help achieve?
For individual families remittances can help people make it, build great homes as Patricia has done in the film or ensure more of their kin can get to the West for a better life. However it is still all a bit piecemeal. It is not the same as supporting and demanding resources, major investment and political freedom. This is what our peers need to collectively decide upon and deliver the society wide development they would like to see. Ending all immigration controls however would be a useful interim measure to ensure more of our peers can get jobs abroad, send money home and have more than the basics.
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