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!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Once Upon a Time – My Cell Phone, My Coltan, My Market (Economy)

 Once upon a time, I settled in Cotonou, Benin.  I heard and experienced little of chaotic Nigeria and the oil fields, immediately to the east.  The blazing equatorial sun and the humidity blowing in off the Gulf of Guinea intoxicated me much more.  The heat was... remarkable… a fine British, colonial, and aristocratic, sentimental saying.
In many respects, I lived there as well as I do in Canada.  I marched off to work for a Canadian development organization and the staff (servants), stayed busily engaged at home.  Leftovers could spoil quickly, so we cooked fresh every day.  I, we, colleagues, well, we picked up fresh papaya and pineapple in the market.  Because some of us adhered to our vegetarian ways, there was always the soaking of dried beans and the making of yoghurt from milk powder.  Furthermore, vegetables, if they were to be eaten fresh, had to be rinsed in a chlorine solution.  Local gardens were watered from shallow wells which, given the surface latrines throughout the city, meant ghastly amoeba and bacteria sprinkled on all those nice tomatoes and lettuces.   For lack of a machine, other significant household chores included daily hand washing of clothes and, no vacuum, sweeping and wiping for dust, dust, dust.
Narcotic as it was, to be king in a fishbowl, I could still see, that something about it was not The Wealth of Nations.
My home, built for foreigners, had four plus extra rooms for… well… access perhaps to the wrap-around porch?  Me me and me.  My neighbours, all  27 of them in their complex of  blended family (ies), lived in the same floor area of perhaps 1200 square feet.  My 1200, mostly interior.  Their 1200, mostly exterior.
I had space, but I was alone.  Poor.
My neighbours had space, but were not alone  Wealthy.
They had children playing, cooking, and courting, great wives commanding, uncles tottering, college students studying on boards and bricks… all within the parameter of their wall.  Sometimes the chaos spilled out of doors through the gate and onto the unpaved street.  Interface with tinkerers, merchants, marketers, vendors, sleuths, pickpockets, hawkers, shysters and more!  All the world for sale on heads, on motos, on carts, in hands, over shoulders, and in minds.  A neighbourhood, a market, in all true sense of the meaning, alive from morning to midnight!
Oddly, Benin is among the world's poorest countries with a per capita GNI $ 790 (per capita final $ value) in 2012.  We in Canada enjoy around $39,000.  Benin has little ability to buffer local markets from the shake up of globalization.
We in Canada have oil, gas, and potash.  Some say we have good government, too.  Perhaps, I think, the $ and the resources are behind this.  After all, what we also have are global mining and banking companies.  In Mali, in Mexico, in Congo (DRC), in London (banks).
This is not Adam Smith.  There is no free market where guns are behind recruitment of your children into the Lord’s army.  Ours is no free market where our cell phones are loaded up with coltan, mined in eastern Congo under the auspices of a rebel army and the rape of women every day, managed by Rwanda and Paul Kagame, tolerated if not financed by our governments, and our mining companies, and our banks, and delivered at low cost to refiners, manufactured for our cell phones everywhere.
Just google up, buddies…
mining Canada banks coltan cell phones
Coltan.  You buy it, so do I do.
But it is not The Wealth of Nations.  No free market.
What was Cotonou, Benin?  Just at that time, on a street, in nowheresville anywhere, I heard laughter in the street, close to the watchful eye of a parent.  I saw ‘you and me’ in a once upon time world, buying and selling in a market.  I saw you and me negotiating with people you and I knew.  Or did not know, the traders, outsiders, people not in the market, but from a market economy…
Warily we trod in that case.

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