Welcome to JP Melville's review, experience, and statement on foreign aid and the international development industry. A conservative faith in family. A love affair riding the riotous tensions between money, personal freedom, the majestic travesty of our specie's ecological footprint, and economic politics. Selected writing of both prose and poetry, anecdotal travel log to rhetorical essay, dating back from the 1980's to the present. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Development, Rafale Jets, Drones, + Power = Diaspora

We development professionals who have focussed our activities on less or non-industrialized nations play an integral role in the diaspora of industrial society.  That role reflects two, critical conditions.  The first is that the development industry is a primary administrative component of that diaspora.  The second condition is that neither we nor the society are intrinsic to any nation or people.  That is, we are mobile, prepared to live in any place under the auspices of the same development industry.  And industrial society has no allegiance to place.  Today, in varying proportions, one will always find both development professionals and industrial society, anywhere.
In only very few cases is development set up in opposition to industrial society and its predecessors - mercantilism, colonialism, imperialism.  Even fewer development professionals would turn down a conference somewhere just because getting to the conference entailed a ride on a jet airplane.  There are few practising Luddites, deep ecologists, or communal idealists among us.
By and large, this absence of radicals in our crowd is due to the fact that development, by virtue of its historical context, shares a conjugal bed with technology.  Technology, in its somewhat idolized form today, is virtually synonymous with industrialization.  In turn, industrialization depends on the exploitation of resources and, to date, a consequent degradation of the natural environment.  And the process of exploitation depends, essentially, on the functions of a market economy in which wealth disparity is a standard feature.
We accept the contradictions.
Of course, within the development circle there are various types of apologists arguing among themselves, sometimes politely, sometimes not, about development's nature and role.  Some say all’s well with the world and development can only make things better.  Others say that the world is being torn apart and only development can act as a moderating influence.  Irregardless of these small philosophical differences, all development activities subsist on one universal assumption - that human sufferance can be, if not ought to be, cared for through non-partisan institutions.  This means : your suffering is not mine, but I will care for you.
With this assumption, all development professionals remain attached to and dependent on an idea of development, resting comfortably under development's wing, a development which safely justifies studies, programmes, projects, meetings, air-conditioned four wheel drive vehicles, God, and more.
But what of the vast majority of people who, rather than doing development, are having the development done to them?  Why not if it means a paycheck as a hired driver?  Why not if it means project funds are transferred to you and your friends as a partner organization?  Why not if it means a new storage shed or grain grinding machine in the village?
In my immediate experience, any pay cheque is good.
But few people are such beneficiaries.  The money rarely lands in a torn and dusty pocket.  And the jobs, the partners, and the funds come and go.
Walk through the streets of many of the world's cities and try to count the hawkers of petty goods.  Spend a rainy month walking through the fields of any country where tillage is primarily accomplished by hand labour and try to count the number of men, women, and children.  After counting for a while, a feeling appears that the development apologists' development has, not universal, but very limited insurance coverage.
Drop me an AK 47, I am just 12 years old, but I could use one… or two… for my friend.
Needless to say, we development professionals are included in the development discourse insurance coverage.  We have our health care.  We have our plane tickets home.  We have Rafale jets.  We have UAV drones.  Punishment for interfering with due process.
Not that this kind of disparity between the haves and the have nots, between the beneficiaries of ideology and its subjects, is so uncommon.  To have a little military on your backside up.  Little has changed in humanity's substance despite all our development.
So, chuck development out the window?  There is no particular reason to do so.  Disparity in human society is present as much as is love, or war, or friendship, or the wielding of power.  The task is simply to understand development for what it is.
We development professionals are a diaspora, the missionaries of industrial technology and free-market economy.  We promise a bright future.  We deliver gifts - money, buildings, gizmos - proving that what we say is true.  We instill faith in the flock.
And we wield power.
I have no doubt in this.

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