Generosity is not Justice


“You always talk of giving back more, but not of taking less

You always talk of helping more, but never talk of doing less harm

You never think you might be the cause of the problem that you are trying to solve”

Anand Giridharadas


The Neo-Feudal age


When I was growing up as a kid, billionaires were evil, in the Bond movies, in Spy novels, in newspapers and the like. They were always twisted, bitter, power-hungry megalomaniacs bent on world control. In this day and age we have come to worship Billionaires, they are the Superheroes of our age and kids don’t look to Superman but to Zuckerberg, Bezos, Gates, Page and Jack as their heroes. The media paints them as super-intelligent evangelists for the Gospel of hyper-capitalism, we seek their opinions on policy that have nothing to do with their expertise. We assume they know everything and should just be obeyed. This masks a wider problem. The huge income inequality gap that is emerging in this new world both internally within nations and between nations, and the rise of government deficits in proportion to tax-cuts for the rich. This creates a cyclical problem, lower taxes for the rich, less revenue for government, so they slash jobs and services, leads to worse schools, then they borrow money to make up the deficit, then the rich point “See? I told you government doesn’t work.” The Rich then set up charities and foundations to appear to solve these problems caused by government breakdown and are hailed as White Knights. This is also exactly how the West treats Africa. Their trade policies skew the markets towards themselves, we have to give them tax breaks to attract their investment, we have to cut down size of government to make up shortfall, we end up selling our goods for less, we end up borrowing more, services break down and they say “See? I told you Africa doesn’t work!” Then they come in to save the day with their aid.

The winner takes it all

When someone gives you help, you must first question the reason for them helping you. Is it genuine altruism, does that even exist? Is it because they feel bad and want to cover guilt? Is it to paint themselves as heroes when they are really the cause of the problem? The winners of today are the same ones who wrote the rules of this modern digital age. They all went to the same schools, the governing class and economic elite are now in bed together more than ever. The Ruling elite write laws to help their friends make and keep more money, money has replaced virtue as a measure of Goodness. They say there are winners and losers but they wrote the rules, the rules just happen to favour them. The top companies in the world have commoditized social capital by breaking down society, not building it. Facebook monetized friendship, stopped you from talking to your neighbor so it could make money off you. Amazon is taking over every small local business person that used to shake your hand in the morning and ask about your kids. Tinder is commodifying LOVE, the girl you grew up with next door is not enough, there are infinite possibilities of love, just keep swiping, but you’ll still end up marrying the girl next door. Africans look at the West and wonder if we would like that for our children? Africans have stopped idealizing the West, we are seeing the effects of that lifestyle, rich in pocket but poor in spirit. These billionaires then decide which diseases should be cured first, what type of schools we have, and what is taught there. If a billionaire’s mother dies of a certain disease, he donates billions to that disease and makes it a priority, pushes for more government funding for that. Generosity is not justice, generosity can only help a few, justice helps all.



National pathology

This brings me to how this affects Africans. We appeal to Western generosity, but not to justice, every economic survey shows the West takes out 3 times what it gives in aid to Africa. We appeal for generosity to help solve our problems but never for justice. Justice is what is needed, there is no economic justice towards Africa. This was spoken about openly for the first time by the Deputy PM of Italy, he spoke of how France still colonized some 14 African countries and forced them to use a currency that makes them poor, this forces the best young talent to flee the continent. It is an open secret that France gets some $500bn from its colonies, without that money it would be in 15th position globally. No amount of generosity will lift us out of poverty if the left hand is taking more than the right hand is giving us, only justice can save us. Generosity is a bonus, it is discretionary, justice is mandatory for all of us. There are so-called philanthropists I have worked for in NGO’s that ban words like Inequality – say “lack of Opportunity” meaning you can’t get at the core of the problem. These mega-billionaires that fund many of the World’s biggest initiatives have an interest in the world remaining the way it is, they will never allow any meaningful change that will affect their profits. The donors only want cosmetic change and not structural change. If the world trade rules were changed then aid would not be necessary. If the richest 10% paid taxes then we wouldn’t need their charity. Like a parent who refuses to pay school fees, the school is run down, then the parent donates to the school to look nice.

Black people, it’s not our fault!!


Africans and Black people in general have been ashamed for so long. We have wondered just what it was in our blackness that made us so stupid, so dumb and slow compared to the white man? The statistics bore this out, every economic, educational, social indicator pointed down. Surely, we could not blame racism alone. Even Martin Luther King said the Civil Rights movement should primarily be about economic empowerment. We had academics like Charles Murray scientifically trying to prove blacks were less intelligent, he was clever to put white people not at the top of the intelligence pyramid but just below the Asians (read Orientals) in his book The Bell Curve. Murray recently wrote a book called Falling Apart about the disintegration of White middle-class America. In this book he points to many of the symptoms that dogged Black Americans are now affecting White Americans. Social breakdown, less marriage, children born out of wedlock, high drug abuse, alcohol abuse, joblessness, lower literacy rates, high crime, suicides, all these are affecting average whites. People are suddenly realizing that this problem can happen to any society, any good neighborhood can turn to a ghetto if social capital breaks down and poverty rots the spirit. After decades of hand wringing the West is seeing what we Africans have said for years, this is not our true character but poverty makes you do stupid things, act reckless, against your own interests just to eat for the day.

What is power for?


In this brave new world we have redefined almost everything. We rarely talk of Morality, we talk of ethics, morality sounds judgmental, pious even, like religious, ethics sounds professional. Is it ethical for one man to own more than 20 African countries? Yes. Is it Moral? No. What is power? What is it for? Is it to serve the people or those with money? What is money? Is it something to be hoarded in the trillions just adding endless zeroes that mean nothing, is this just a game? We decide the value of money, like in Venezuela or Zimbabwe the dollar will cease to have meaning. How can we wrestle power back from the global elites that have controlled it? These are the questions we missed as we were swiping left. Technology is just breading a more rapacious form of capitalism but it doesn’t need to be that way. Technology can also free us. Social capital is the most valuable commodity on earth, all peace and development is built on social capital, without it we are nothing, savages at best. Money is just a way to try to replace social capital, in rural areas you can see rich social capital where people can live without money, just by good deeds. Go to the barbershop, get a cut, can’t pay, no problem, you owe me a favour. Next time I need my yard cleaned you pay for the haircut with labour, or tomatoes, or whatever you have. We have technology that can track social credit and we can live with minimal use for money. The world is falling apart because no leader can articulate a vision for the future that is inclusive for all. We are too deep into the Neo-classical thinking of Markets are Good, even when the markets are destroying our economies for an extra 0.1% efficiency. We should believe in markets, but understand that markets exist to serve us, not the other way around. Above all we must ask “what kind of world do we want?” We Africans have to be ready because the day of reckoning is coming and we must speak with one voice “GENEROSITY IS NOT JUSTICE.”

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