Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Arrested Development

Throughout 15 years of travelling to and around Africa I’ve always been plagued by the recurring question, why hasn’t Africa developed since independence. By contrast India and the former South East Asian colonies now have strong economies, and a burgeoning middle class, beavering away to produce the wealth and prosperity in line with the globalised theology which is “wealth generation”.

I have seen Mauritania transform over the years from a backwards, closed provincial-minded country to one that understands the value of being part of the international network for trade and aid. But it hasn’t gone far enough to drag the majority of its population out of poverty. There still remains a rich elite and an impoverished populous.

African cultural hierarchy is structured around the patriarch. “The Big Man”, as Redland O’Hanlan describes it in his excellent book Congo Journey. Everyone has a Big Man they can turn to in times of need, for money or favours, and in exchange they support their Big Man too. There’s incentive to work too hard because becoming the Big Man means you then have to support your followers who usurp you of as much as you can. It will also but you at odds with your Big Man who will feel threatened by your rise. Much better then to sit back and hope your Big Man does well and will look after you with what power he can grasp.

So follows a culture of corruption, nepotism and kleptocracy. It’s a vicious cycle that works on the corporate level too. As a mining company you want to invest in Congo, but the only way to do it is to bribe your government minister. He can’t issue a mining permit without taking a bribe because, apart from his greed, he also has a pyramid of dependants beneath him that need to be fed.

In Angola we saw a glimpse of how that cycle might be broken. Angola has a small but important middle class. Educated abroad in Portugal and Brazil during the war, they’ve now returned with skills and middle class aspirations and work ethic s, as employees of the Mobile Phone, mining and oil companies, and as independent entrepreneurs. They have no need of a Big Man, and no desperate dependents who look to them for handouts and favours, corrupting their efforts.

In Amritsar I meet Tajinder a textile engineer who takes time off work to evangelise to foreigners about the Sikh faith. He guides me gently around the Golden Temple explaining in monosyllabic rote the history and beliefs of the Sikh faith, fighters against injustice. Most of the detail is lost by my inability to stay focused on the dry presentation, but after months of hearing “Ain’ shallah” used continuously, reinforcing the idea that regardless of our actions, we are helpless in the face of a divinely chosen destiny, it was a stark change to hear Tajinder tell me; “Everywhere in the world Sikhs go they are a success, because they don’t believe in destiny, they believe in hard work, and self betterment.” Good, wholesome middle class values.

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