Welcome to the new blog of the Centre for Global Education. The blog aims to generate discussion on topical issues central to development education and international development.
Stephen McCloskey argues that the social and economic inequalities that have fed the growing popular disconnect with mainstream politics manifested by Brexit and Trump, demand more from education. He suggests a wider adoption of the radical, participative, empowering and action-oriented educational approach of Paulo Freire.
The political systems on both sides of the Atlantic have been subjected to seismic quakes and perpetual uncertainty following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) by referendum in June 2016 and the election of Donal Trump as president of the United States (US) in November. Political commentators have been left scratching their heads in determining how these events came to pass and what Brexit plus Trump actually means for us all. Brexit and Trump have been bracketed together in this debate because similar factors seem to have played a part in their outcomes. They include the mutually professed political affinity of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, the dominant voice in the leave campaign during the referendum. Both are popular nationalists who made political capital from platforms that sought a reclamation of a perceived lost sovereignty and promotion of protectionism to restore lost economic lustre. They positioned themselves as outsiders shaking up the failed political establishment and appealed to communities in deindustrialised regions like Tyneside and Pennsylvania that felt abandoned by the political elite. The economist Thomas Piketty found evidence of this decline in the United States (US) with new research showing ‘that over the last 30 years the growth in the incomes of the bottom 50% has been zero, whereas incomes of the top 1% have grown 300%’. And in the UK, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found in 2014-15 that 13.5 million people or 21 percent of the total population were living in low-income households; a proportion that has barely changed since 2002-03.
One of the most alarming social indicators of poverty in Britain has been the increased recourse to foodbanks by people on low income and benefits. The Trussell Trust reported that between April and September 2016 the number of three-day emergency food supplies distributed by foodbanks was 519,342 compared to 355, 982 in the same period in 2013. Nearly one quarter of those who received food parcels in 2016 were on low incomes beset by problems such as ‘low pay, insecure work or rising costs’. What emerges from these statistics on poverty in the US and Britain are people struggling to reconcile stagnant wages with increasing costs for food, heating and other essentials like clothing. Meanwhile, at the other end of the economic scale we are witnessing the accumulation of grotesque amounts of wealth by the 1 percent; billionaires taking advantage of high yield investments and low tax havens. A report published last month by Oxfam found that ‘eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity’. The report suggested that the ‘very design of our economies and the principles of our economics have taken us to this extreme, unsustainable and unjust point’. It clearly points to the fact that neoliberalism, the economic paradigm that underpins this social and economic polarisation, ‘wrongly assumes that wealth created at the top will “trickle down” to everyone else’.
Racism and Islamophobia
Static incomes and high unemployment in communities cut adrift by the global economy and impacted by sunset traditional industries only partly explain the political traction of Farage and Trump. We can add to this toxic mix the spectre of racism, particularly but not exclusively directed at Muslims. Amid increasingly rancid posturing toward Islam, Trump vacillated during his election campaign from initially promising to ban all Muslims from entering the US to the ‘extreme vetting’ of immigrants. He also pledged that every single undocumented immigrant living in the US - of which there are 11.3m – ‘have to go’. Post-election the deportation threat has been narrowed somewhat to two to three million people who ‘are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers’. Mexican immigrants in particular have been described by Trump in appallingly racist terms. Mexico, he said, ‘are (sic) sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and their rapists’.
The enduring image from the EU referendum debate in the UK was a poster unveiled by Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) just days before the vote that screamed ‘Breaking Point: the EU has failed us all’. It showed thousands of refugees in Slovenia in 2015 who had just crossed the border with Croatia and the obvious message to voters was that membership of the EU was exposing Britain to similar levels of immigration. Commenting on the poster at the time, journalist Anaella Safdar said:
“The image suggests that refugees are somehow to blame for financial issues in the United Kingdom and this is simply not the case. Framing the photo in this way turns the image into a piece of political propaganda. It fuels race-based discrimination and hatred”.
The poster’s strapline said to voters ‘We must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders’. The image and associated messaging suggested that the UK was struggling to cope with a sharp spike in refugees that was placing public services at ‘breaking point’.
The realities of the refugee crisis
The facts point to a different reality with the UN’s Refugee Agency estimating that nearly nine in ten of the world’s refugees are sheltered by developing countries not the EU. In the first two weeks of November 2016 alone, more than 44,000 refugees from South Sudan arrived in Uganda which is greater than the total that arrived in Britain in all of 2016. The Refugee Council found that the UK had the sixth highest number of asylum applications in the EU in 2016 and was ranked 16th in terms of asylum applications per ‘head of resident population’. Between January and September 2016, Germany had received 781,000 asylum applications which towered over the UK total of 41,000 or just 3 percent of the EU total. In a global context, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees reported that there were 65.3 million forcibly displaced people in 2015 with the majority of 68 percent hosted by countries in Africa and the Middle-East; just 6 percent were hosted in Europe. The top five hosting countries for displaced people are: Turkey (2.5m); Pakistan (1.6m); Lebanon (1.1m); Iran (979,400); and Ethiopia (736,400). It is therefore the countries least able to cope with large numbers of incoming refugees who host the majority and EU states, by contrast, host the smallest number. Britain, for example, has hosted just 4,414 Syrian refugees since the conflict began from a total of 4.8 million and promised to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 which is a paltry 4,000 a year.
This is not to underplay genuine public concerns about migration or to ignore the spike in the number of migrants, particularly from countries in conflict such as Afghanistan and Syria, trying to make their way to Europe. Public services can be strained by new arrivals and communities may feel ill-equipped or even threatened by the location of migrants in their locality. But the reality of inward migration in Britain is often exaggerated both by the media and politicians. For example, by the end of September 2016, the Refugee Council reported that Britain received just 29,246 asylum applications suggesting that comparatively few migrants are seeking safety there.
Spike in race crime
But UKIP, like Trump in the US, has managed to configure migration in uniformly negative terms and peddled myths that resonated with many who voted to leave the EU. Migration has been used as a straw man by Trump and Farage to account for, at least in part, stagnating wages, the decline in public services and lack of decent jobs. This in turn has resulted in rising levels of hate crime and racism with ‘nearly 900 hate incidents’ reported within the 10 days following Trump's election on 8 November. These incidents included ‘a spike in assaults, intimidation, and harassments towards ethnic and racial minorities, including children, women, and the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender) community’.
Similarly, in the month following the EU referendum there was a 41 percent increase in the number of racially or religiously aggravated crimes recorded by 31 police forces in England and Wales. This spike in racist attacks in the US and UK suggested that the perpetrators felt emboldened as if their views had somehow attained a level of credibility or even respectability as a result of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election. In assessing the impact of the alignment of economic stasis with negative political outpourings on migration, Oxfam suggested that:
“From Brexit to the success of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, a worrying rise in racism and the widespread disillusionment with mainstream politics, there are increasing signs that more and more people in rich countries are no longer willing to tolerate the status quo. Why would they, when experience suggests that what it delivers is wage stagnation, insecure jobs and a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots? The challenge is to build a positive alternative – not one that increases divisions”.
Sales of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984 have soared following the use of the term ‘alternative facts’ by a Trump advisor, Kellyanne Conway, in a public spat about the numbers that attended the presidential inauguration on 20 January. The inauguration was overshadowed by a mass women’s march against Trump in Washington DC the following day that was supported by ‘sister’ marches in cities across the US and around the world. These demonstrations appeared to easily eclipse the crowd that witnessed the inauguration and suggested that alternative facts were simply fiction. In any event, this dispute over numbers told us that the Trump presidency will be characterised by a battle for the truth and development education could and should play a critical part in that engagement. Rooted in the revolutionary conception of education by the philosopher, practitioner and activist Paulo Freire, development education believes that active citizenship can result in social transformation and the eradication of inequality. Mostly supported by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government aid programmes, development education equips learners with the skills, values, knowledge and understanding needed to critically analyse problems and devise actions to address them.
As Irish Aid suggests development education ‘empowers people to analyse, reflect on and challenge at a local and global level the root causes of global hunger, injustice, inequality and climate change; presenting multiple perspectives on global justice issues’. Development education rejects learning by rote and, instead, supports interactive, experiential learning that fosters action toward sustainability, justice and equality. A key component of the Freirean active learning methodology is the development of critical thinking skills of enquiry and demystification that reveal truth, support analysis and enable action. Education has a critical role to play in the battle for ideas around how we manage the world’s natural resources, how we treat migrants, how we manage our economy and how we integrate with other cultures and societies. In his introduction to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Richard Schaull said
“Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes ‘the practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world”.
Development education is not a neutral process. It consciously sides with the marginalised, disempowered and dispossessed and argues for more just and equal social relations. The values, skills, attitudes and understanding underpinning development education need to become more firmly integrated into formal and informal education systems if we are to combat grossly distorted economic inequalities and the kind of poisonous social attitudes that manifested themselves during the EU referendum and presidential election.
Growing activism and resistance
Before despairing of an inexorable drift toward the right in the UK and US that could further undermine already weakened government services and social protections, we should build on the popular markers of resistance already in train. They include: the mass mobilisation of women that trumped the crowd attending the new president’s inauguration; the throngs of volunteer attorneys and activists that flocked to American airports to offer assistance to refugees and citizens from the seven Muslim-majority countries banned by Trump from entering the US; and in the UK, the 1.6 million people who signed a petition in support of scrapping or downgrading an invitation extended by British prime-minister Theresa May to Donal Trump for an official state visit. With executive orders that have included a temporary ban on refugees and construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border, Trump has simultaneously become a polarising president and galvaniser of resistance on a wider scale than ever could have been envisaged under Hillary Clinton, his Democratic challenger for the presidency. It is Trump’s extremism that potentially encompasses his downfall, particularly his debasing of many of the key values – compassion, social justice, respect – that many Americans hold dear.
Some commentators have found echoes of Brexit and Trump in the period of economic recession, racism and xenophobia in the 1930s that paved the way to fascism and war. This is probably a warning not to take too literally but does suggest how extreme neoliberal economics can dangerously distort social relations and attitudes in periods of steep decline. In this context, development education can become a critical point of resistance to the gross social and economic inequality that fed into the divisions manifested in the EU referendum and presidential election. It can also serve as a push factor, encouraging the kind of activism essential to creating a more just and sustainable world.
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The international development sector met the news of the UK referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU) with a collective groan. There had been dire warnings before the vote on what Brexit would mean for the sector and Britain’s influence on multilateral aid and development policy decisions made by its European partners. These arguments failed to gather any real traction with the public and NGOs suggested that this was largely due to regulatory guidance published by the Charity Commission in England and Wales concerning their participation in the referendum which amounted to the gagging of an important constituency in a crucial debate.research report published earlier this year suggests that overall public confidence and trust in charities has fallen to 5.7 (from 6.7 in 2015) out of ten.
Overall, respondents said that they are more likely to trust small charities (57 percent) over large ones (34 percent) and charities that operate in the UK (61 percent) over those that operate internationally (31 percent). These are worrying conclusions for international NGOs and perhaps signal that the public regard the non-governmental sector as part of the institutional elite against which they were rebelling in the referendum vote. An Ashcroft analysis of leave voters suggests that they were mostly located in the East and South East of England, unemployed or on low incomes, older (60 percent of those over 65 voted to leave) and finished school at secondary level or earlier. Culturally, leave voters regard social liberalism (74 per cent), feminism (74 per cent), multiculturalism (81 per cent), and globalisation (69 per cent) as ‘forces for ill’ in society rather than positives to embrace.
The economist Paul Mason argues that: ‘The Brexit vote was an insurrectionary protest against neoliberalism, globalism and cultural contempt’. The referendum result certainly reflects a deeply divided society along class, cultural and geographical lines; divisions accentuated by the post-2008 austerity politics that have largely targeted vulnerable communities and sectors of society. Brexit could, therefore, be viewed as further evidence of a growing chasm between the lived experiences of a state-neglected and increasingly alienated working class and the NGO sector which they do not regard as a positive part of their lives. Concepts that are championed by the international development sector such as global citizenship and interdependence were, if anything, negatively configured in the Brexit debate suggesting that development NGOs are largely disconnected from ‘leave’ communities.
A particular concern for the international development sector must be the hardening attitudes the referendum debate evinced toward migrants from both within the EU and from the global South. The lowest point of this debate was a UK Independence Party poster titled ‘Breaking Point’ showing a long queue of refugees and migrants awaiting entry to Europe which was reported to the police for inciting racial hatred and compared on social media to Nazi propaganda. Immigration was a hugely influential issue for leave voters and rarely presented in an accurate or positive light. The referendum debate, for example, ignored a study published in 2014 which found that European migrants have made a net contribution of £20 billion to the UK economy, paying far more in taxes than they receive in state benefits. And globally, the World Bank has found that over the past year hard working international migrants sent $441 billion in remittances to their families in developing countries while working abroad.
The positive side of migration however hardly permeated media coverage of the issue, which was often overheated and widely inaccurate, fuelling scare stories of a migrant ‘invasion’ resulting in collapsing services, benefit dependence, ‘stolen’ jobs and houses, and a ‘skiver’ mentality. For example, the leave side claimed that Britain was ‘full’ in terms of claims for asylum from refugees, yet figures from Eurostat show that the UK received 60 asylum applications per 100,000 population in 2015 which is well below the EU average of 260 per 100,000 and Hungary’s total of 1,800. Moreover, 86 per cent of the world’s refugees are hosted by countries in the global South, which are least well equipped in terms of resources and aid to support large refugee populations. Most specialist reporting on migration argues that it should be incumbent on the UK and other EU states to shoulder greater responsibility for the world’s refugees particularly when many have been displaced in the first place by western interventions in unstable regions of the global South in the form of military engagement, proxy wars and arms sales. Britain’s invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, which has just been deemed ‘unjustified’ by The Chilcot Inquiry, is a clear example of this and has sown a whirlwind of discord and contagion of poverty, violence and extremism across the Middle-East.
A more rounded and measured analysis of migration and Britain’s relationship with the global South was mostly absent from the referendum debate and is, perhaps, reflective of deficiencies within the development sector regarding citizen engagement at a local level. We have seen in the 2012 Finding Frames report from BOND that many large NGOs are engaged in shallow forms of learning about development that are linked to transactional levels of public engagement. Public understanding about development consequently remains ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’ and based on the notion that all development problems are resolvable through aid and financial giving which was never the case. This problem is compounded by NGO preoccupation with the policy agenda of government bodies and a growing disconnect with those whom they claim to represent: the poor, marginalised and dispossessed. A BOND report recently suggested that:
“If an NGO maintains a respectful dialogue with its intended beneficiaries, recognising their priorities from their points of view, and beneficiaries shape operational decisions, then this creates a framework within which an NGO’s analysis, response and evaluation are likely to be high quality.”
However, if NGOs lose direct contact with their intended beneficiaries and formulate policies on the basis of what they think policy-makers want to hear rather than the needs of their constituents then a social compact is broken. From the 1970s to the mid-1990s, development agencies were a mainstay of development education delivered to local communities on global issues. They supported grassroots programmes that championed global citizenship, positive values and a deeper understanding of our relationship with the global South. It also sustained critical thinking and action toward social justice and equality. Many of these programmes were abandoned as development agency activities became increasingly led by policy from above rather than the needs of their natural constituents; vulnerable groups and regions. Reflecting on Brexit, Duncan Green of Oxfam asks ‘Would it be better to pull back from the day to day trench warfare of Whitehall and go long term, working with youth, investing more in development education, working on public attitudes to race and ‘Otherness’?’ There can only be one answer to this if the international development sector is to reclaim lost credibility and relevance in the communities that voted leave. Development agencies should re-evaluate how they engage with the public and invest more in domestic development education programmes to help the centre reconnect with the periphery. Patrick Freyne suggested that ‘if policy-makers do not recognise what people on the margins are thinking, then people on the margins will continue voting for the unthinkable.’ The same could be said for NGOs.
“The SDGs do not represent the flames of change. They are more of a smoke signal. A mere distraction. The hope now rests in their potential to spark indignation, to help build a movement of people who recognise the true depths of the challenges we face”
(Fionuala Cregan, Igniting the Communal Fire: What The SDGs could learn from Indigenous People)
A startling picture of global inequality has been presented by Oxfam in a new report which finds that just 62 billionaires control as much wealth as ‘the bottom half of humanity’; a staggering 3.6 billion people. In a trend pointing to accelerating economic polarisation, the one percent (62 people) has increased its wealth by a massive 44 percent since 2010 while the collective wealth of the bottom 50 percent dropped by a near identical 41 percent or $1 trillion. This is largely due to a stagnation of incomes among the bottom half of the world’s people who have received a paltry one percent of the total increase in global wealth since 2000. According to Oxfam, these trends point to a world ‘with levels of inequality we may not have seen for over a century’ and cast serious doubt on the outcomes of the 15 year international effort to cut global poverty by half; the Millennium Development Goals. With the United Nations’ agreement last September on another 15 year development process to 2030 comprising 17 Sustainable Development Goal s (SDGs) backed up by 169 targets, development practitioners everywhere should seriously reflect on the SDGs’ capacity to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’.
A London-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), Share The World’s Resources, believes that the SDGs are not equal to the key challenges confronting countries in the global South. For example, the goals have been shorn of any acknowledgement or analysis of the historical (colonialism, structural adjustment programmes) or contemporary (neoliberalism, privatisation of public services) causes of inequality essential to the formulation of requisite action and redress. The SDGs also appear toothless to reverse the growing trend of financial flows from global South to the global North completely eclipsing aid and investment in the developing countries by Northern governments and institutions .
More than 40 years on from the origins of the debt crisis in low and medium income countries, the Jubilee Debt Campaign estimates the total global debt owed by debtor countries to be $13.8 trillion. One of the architects of the global debt crisis, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has flourished in the economic chaos that has accompanied the global financial crisis of 2008. It continues to implement devastating structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) as a price for extending loans to toiling economies. SAPs require that debtor countries reduce spending in crucial social areas of government expenditure such as health and education which in turn results in lower standards of living. There is no provision in the SDGs for debt restructuring or cancelation which means that this major drain of resources from the global South will continue unabated.
Similarly, the SDGs are ill-equipped to deal with the lost revenue to developing countries caused by illicit financial flows calculated in 2012 at $991 billion. This capital is lost to the global South through crime, corruption and tax evasion, and has been described by Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a US-based research organisation, as ‘the most damaging economic problem plaguing the world’s developing and emerging economies’. Raymond Baker, Chair of GFI, said ‘These outflows—already greater than the combined sum of all FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) and ODA (Overseas Development Aid) flowing into these countries—are sapping roughly a trillion dollars per year from the world’s poor and middle-income economies’. The SDGs have not created an international tax body to clamp down on evaders and close legal loopholes that allow wealthy individuals and corporations to play a pittance in tax. The IMF, no less, has suggested that developing countries lose $200 billion in corporate tax avoidance every year. Putting this figure in context, Angel Gurría, the secretary-general of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) ‘reckons that developing countries lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in international aid each year’.
Aid in context
In a rounded analysis of the financial problems blighting the economies of low income countries, aid is arguably well down the policy pecking order. In 2012, remittances – the transfer of money home by migrants working abroad – amounted to $530 billion, ‘more than three times larger than total global aid budgets’. Illegal capital outflows were eleven times greater than ODA in 2012 and, according to Share The World’s Resources (STWR), governments in low- and middle-income countries are indebted to the tune of over $4 trillion dollars, and spend more than $1.4 billion every day repaying these debts. ‘On average’, states STWR, ‘developing countries are returning over 400% more in debt service repayments than they receive in aid’. The SDGs lack any actionable, timebound pledges for financing development but in any event, as we have seen, aid is not the answer to the fundamental weaknesses in low income economies. However, we repeatedly find the international development sector in Ireland and in many other European states, elevating aid to the top of its policy agenda. We had the ‘Act Now on 2015’ campaign in Ireland that sought to have the government comply with the (45 year old) target of raising the aid budget to 0.7 percent of national income.
The campaign failed to reach its goal as the aid budget was cut in six consecutive years after the 2008 financial crisis. It is estimated that Ireland’s ODA in 2016 will represent 0.36% of GNP representing a modest increase of €40 million on 2015 and still well short of the 0.7 percent target. But perhaps the bigger issue is whether the sector’s continued focus on aid is the best way to support countries in the global South. Simply falling in behind the SDG agenda and pressing for increases in aid will not alter the social and economic trends picked up by Oxfam’s report. After 15 years of MDG delivery, The Rules, a global network of activists, estimates that 4.1 billion people are living in poverty on less than $5 a day; that represents 60 percent of the world’s population.
The elephant in the room
In its preoccupation with aid and the SDGs, the sector is in danger of losing sight of the elephant in the room when we debate the causes of poverty in the global North and South; the market fundamentalism of neoliberalism. This economic model which believes in the primacy of markets to deliver services and seeks to reduce the role of government in public life has overseen a ‘race to the bottom’ as vital services essential to the welfare and protection of citizens have been hollowed out by market reforms. The leverage afforded it by the financial crisis has enabled the IMF to extend the implementation of structural adjustment reforms into the global North, including Ireland. Following waves of austerity implemented post-2008, Ireland has 750,000 people living in poverty, an increase of 55,000 since 2011. 230,000 children live in poverty, including an increase of 12,000 in one year despite protestations of an economic recovery. There are also 94,700 working people living in poverty which points to stagnating incomes for those on low wages. Perhaps the biggest failing of the SDGs, therefore, is that there is no deviation from the neoliberal growth model which has created many of the problems they seek to address. If the goals aim to raise living standards through growth on a global scale how can they possibly hope to limit the warming of the earth’s planet to two degrees Celsius , a fundamental plank of the COP 21 climate change conference in Paris in December 2015?
At this pivotal juncture for the sustainability of the planet and the welfare of its citizens, the development non-governmental sector needs to change direction away from a rigid adherence to aid policy formulation and begin debating the real issues that matter to the global South; stopping illicit financial flows, removing obstacles to remittances, closing tax havens and loopholes facilitating evasion, and ensuring debt cancelation for low income countries. The sector also needs to explore and share alternatives to neoliberalism drawing upon examples at community and national level, particularly in Latin America where development processes have been informed by social need rather than serving the needs of the market. As Oxfam suggests ‘it is time to reject this broken economic model’ and ‘do something about it’.
Time has stood still in Gaza over the past year. Since the end of Israel’s third war on the territory in six years – dubbed Operation ‘Protective Edge’ – the people of Gaza have seen precious little of the $3.5bn pledged in aid to rebuild Gaza’s civilian and commercial infrastructure. Chris Gunness of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said in April that eight months after the conflict ended ‘not a single home has been rebuilt’ (Global Research, 25 August 2015). A total of 12,400 housing units were destroyed in the conflict and more than 100,000 people internally displaced.
Gaza city (photo: Stephen McCloskey)
According to aid agencies operating on the ground, last summer’s war ‘inflicted unprecedented destruction and human suffering in Gaza given the loss of life and high number of civilian targets destroyed’ (AIDA, 2015). In the 51 day onslaught from the air, sea and ground, 2,131 Palestinians were killed, of whom 1,473 were civilians, 501 were children and 257 women. On the Israeli side, 71 were killed; 66 soldiers and five civilians. In the aftermath of the conflict, a ceasefire was promised together with reconstruction of Gaza’s decimated infrastructure. One year on, aid agencies say that ‘little tangible change has taken place on the ground in Gaza’ as ‘living conditions for women, girls, men and boys continues to worsen’ (Ibid). This view is underlined by UNRWA who suggest that the causes of the conflict remain unaddressed. ‘The despair, destitution and denial of dignity resulting from last year’s war and from the blockade are a fact of life for ordinary people in Gaza’ (8 July 2015).
Last summer’s war has driven an already desperately poor region to the point of economic collapse by a medieval-like siege imposed by Israel since 2007. Although ostensibly enforced in response to the election of a Hamas government in 2006, the siege has effectively represented an act of collective punishment on the entire Gaza population denying ordinary citizens the most fundamental of rights including: freedom of movement; the right to worship; the right to work; the right to adequate food and clean water; decent housing and education; and, perhaps, most fundamentally of all, the right to security and right to life.
The World Bank has found Gaza to have the highest unemployment rate in the world at 43 percent with this figure soaring to 60 percent among young people. This is a direct consequence of the Gaza economy shrinking over the eight years since the imposition of the siege with the World Bank estimating real per capita income to be 31 percent lower today than in 1994. Because of border closures, Gaza struggles to export products and its manufacturing sector has declined by as much as 60 percent. As Steen Lau Jorgensen, the World Bank Country Director for West Bank and Gaza suggests: ‘The (Gaza) economy cannot survive without being connected to the outside world’ (2015). With exports, growth and jobs being choked off by the siege, an estimated 80 percent of Gaza’s population ‘receives some kind of social assistance, and nearly 40 percent of them still fall below the poverty line’
We can add to this devastating economic vista the cost of last summer’s war. The scale of devastation is evident from the civilian infrastructure targeted by the Israeli military that included: 14 health facilities destroyed including one hospital; 45 ambulances destroyed or damaged; eight schools destroyed and 250 damaged; the primary fuel tank of the Gaza Power Plant destroyed; 30 percent of agricultural land damaged; 128 businesses and workshops destroyed and 419 damaged.
Perhaps even more devastating than the collapsing infrastructure is the psychological effect that these wars are having on Gaza’s population, particularly children. In the immediate aftermath of ‘Protective Edge’, the United Nations (UN) declared that 370,000 children in Gaza were in need of ‘immediate psycho-social first aid’ caused by the severe trauma of war and grinding poverty created by the siege. The Centre for Global Education has worked with young people in Gaza since 2011 and heard from psychotherapists on the manifold effects of trauma which include: constant fear and tension; nightmares and sleep disturbance; bedwetting; increased aggression or becoming withdrawn; decreased appetite and weight loss; and a lack of interest in oneself and others.
These problems are exacerbated on an ongoing basis by regular attacks on Gaza that rarely permeate the mainstream media. Last August’s ceasefire quickly evaporated and Gaza has been subjected to a range of human rights abuses, particularly in buffer zones close to the Israeli military, and at sea. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, in July 2015 alone, Gaza was subject to 27 attacks including shelling, shooting, incursions and detentions. The fishing industry in Gaza has been decimated because fishermen have to operate within an arbitrary limit of six nautical miles from shore which has severely depleted fish stocks. Moreover, fishermen have been subjected to regular attacks within the nautical limit with ten separate shooting incidents recorded in June 2015 alone. As an occupying power, Israel is required by the Fourth Geneva Convention ‘to ensure free, unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief to the occupied population’ (Press Core, 2011). Instead it has rendered Gaza into a state of penury and deprivation.
The cumulative effect of Israel’s wars and siege amounts to a humanitarian crisis that is man-made and entirely preventable. It does this with impunity largely because of the diplomatic cover and de facto support of the United States and European Union. In his latest book, the economist and journalist Paul Mason said:
“In Gaza, in August 2014, I spent ten days in a community being systematically destroyed by drone strikes, shelling and sniper fire. Fifteen hundred civilians were killed, one third of them children. In February 2015, I saw the US Congress give twenty-five standing ovations to the man who ordered the attacks” (Mason, 2015: xix).
For its part, the European Commission has confirmed ‘the unsustainable nature of the status quo, notably the protracted blockade in the Gaza Strip’ and yet continues to enjoy trading relations with Israel under the auspices of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Neither Brussels nor Washington have altered their relationship with Israel since the last summer’s war and have maintained a diplomatic status quo that allows the siege to remain in place.
In an ominous appraisal of the current situation, Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam, said:
“There has been little rebuilding, no permanent ceasefire agreement and no plan to end the blockade. The international community is walking with eyes wide open into the next avoidable conflict, by upholding the status quo they themselves said must change”.
We can either allow this scenario to unfold or redouble our efforts to end the siege. In April 2015, we saw the French multinational corporation, Veolia, disinvest from ‘its water, waste, and energy activities in Israel, following a global campaign against the company's role in illegal Israeli settlements’. This was a significant success for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign aimed at ending corporate complicity with the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It signalled the way forward for civil society around the world in ensuring a swift lifting of the Israeli siege of Gaza to prevent the prospect of yet another war descending upon its beleaguered people.
Aljazeera (2015), ‘Empty words': Donors fail to deliver pledged Gaza aid’, available: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/04/words-donors-fail-deliver-pledged-gaza-aid-150411113825302.html, (accessed 25 April 2015).
Association of International Development agencies (AIDA) (2015), ‘Charting a new course: overcoming the stalemate in Gaza’, 13 April, available: https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/file_attachments/bp-charting-new-course-stalemate-gaza-130415-summ-en.pdf (accessed 19 August 2015).
European Commission (2014) ‘Gaza Crisis, available: http://ec.europa.eu/echo/files/aid/countries/factsheets/gaza_en.pdf, (accessed 14 September 2015).
Global Research (2015) ‘No home rebuilt in Gaza after 2014 Israel war’, 25 April, available: http://www.globalresearch.ca/no-home-rebuilt-in-gaza-after-2014-israel-war-unrwa/5445091, (accessed 14 September 2015).
Mason, Paul (2015) Postcapitalism: A Guide to our Future, London: Allen Lane.
Middle-East Monitor (2015) ‘Victory for Palestinian-led boycott campaign as Veolia sells Israel assets’, available: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/17928--victory-for-palestinian-led-boycott-campaign-as-veolia-sells-israel-assets, (accessed 14 September 2015).
Palestinian Center for Human Rights (2015), ‘Gaza Strip: Attacks in the border areas and their consequences’, 9 July, available: http://www.pchrgaza.org/portal/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11168:gaza-strip-attacks-in-the-border-areas-and-their-consequences&catid=144:new-reports, (accessed 20 August 2015).
Palestinian Center for Human Rights (2015), ‘Israeli Attacks on Fishermen in the Gaza Sea’, 15 July, available: http://www.pchrgaza.org/portal/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11177:israeli-attacks-on-fishermen-in-the-gaza-sea&catid=144:new-reports, (accessed 20 August 2015).
Save the Children (2012), ‘Gaza’s Children: Falling Behind: The Effect of the Blockade on Child Health in Gaza’, available: http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/sites/default/files/docs/Gazas-Children-Falling-Behind.pdf, (accessed 21 August 2015).
Press Core (2011), ‘Blockade of Gaza by Israel is declared illegal by International law and organizations’, available: http://presscore.ca/blockade-of-gaza-by-israel-is-declared-illegal-by-international-law-and-organizations (accessed 14 September 2015).
UN (2014), ‘Gaza: UN says over 370,000 Palestinian children in need of 'psycho-social first aid', 21 August, available: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=48532#.Vd2XxiVViko, (accessed 25 August 2015).
UNRWA (2015) ‘A year after the Gaza war started, the causes of conflict remain unaddressed’, 8 July, available: http://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/official-statements/year-after-gaza-war-started-causes-conflict-remain-unaddressed (accessed 14 September 2015).
UNRWA (no date), ‘Education in the Gaza Strip’, available: http://www.unrwa.org/activity/education-gaza-strip, (accessed 25 August 2015).
World Bank (2015), ‘Gaza economy on the verge of collapse’, 21 May, available: http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2015/05/21/gaza-economy-on-the-verge-of-collapse (accessed 19 August 2015).
Stephen McCloskey is Director of the Centre for Global Education, a development non-governmental organisation based in Belfast. He is editor of the journal Policy and Practice: A Development Education Review and his latest book is From the Local to the Global: Key Issues in Development Studies, edited with Gerard McCann and published by Pluto Press.
This is an important year for international development with big implications for how we approach future efforts toward poverty eradication. An Oxfam report published in January 2015 showed that a small elite (1 percent) controls nearly as much wealth as the
bottom 50 percent of the world’s population. After 15 years, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - the eight targets agreed in 2000 to harness global efforts toward reducing extreme poverty – appear to have done very little to arrest inequalities in wealth accumulation and distribution. Around one billion people still live on less than a $1.25 a day and more than 800 million people don’t have enough food to eat.
Later this year, world leaders will agree new targets – Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which are themselves an acknowledgment of the failings of the MDGs. Perhaps the biggest failing of the MDGs was their lack of critical analysis of the fundamental causes of global poverty and the persistently highly levels of regional disparity in wealth, employment, infrastructure, food security and education within the global South and between global North and South. The MDGs appeared to isolate the causes of poverty within the domestic policies of Southern governments, an approach that ignored the impact of ‘development’ programmes implemented, or enforced, by Northern governments and financial institutions on the South. Critical policies in the areas of globalisation, trade, debt and migration, which are pivotal to the question of development in the global South, were largely spared analysis and criticism in the MDG framework.
15 years later we can’t afford to agree another set of targets that dance around the primary cause of poverty; the neoliberal economic medicine disastrously imposed on countries in the South. Neoliberalism comprised a series of rigid, uniformly enforced economic ‘adjustments’ designed to allow the market, rather than governments, to lead economic policy. These adjustment programmes cut public services, accelerated privatisation, reduced tariffs on imports, and encouraged production in commodities for export rather than an industrial policy informed by local needs. The removal of social protections and reigning in of the state inevitably increased poverty, reduced living standards and weakened economic performance. These problems have been exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis, which has not only completely discredited neoliberalism, but brought entrenched poverty and economic instability to the door of the global North.
Where once they preyed only on low and middle-income countries, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, have brought structural adjustment and austerity programmes to Ireland and other parts of Europe. In developed countries that have struggled to reach the 45 year old target of 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income (GNI) for overseas aid, a king’s ransom was found to bailout failing banks. In Britain alone, a ‘peak outlay’ of £1,162 billion was provided in support to UK banks in the immediate aftermath of the crisis while a comparatively paltry sum of £8.62 billion was provided in official development assistance in 2011. If this travesty were not enough to endure, governments across Europe proceeded to implement belt tightening cuts to public services and welfare to pay for the bailout. As happened for years in the global South, profits were privatised, debts were socialised.
“Will the SDGs will be sufficiently radical and resourced to propose the kind of regulatory measures needed to bring global capitalism to heel?”
A key question for the development sector in 2015 is therefore whether the SDGs will be sufficiently radical and resourced to propose the kind of regulatory measures needed to bring global capitalism to heel? Debt, illicit financial flows, and corporations operating with impunity are all issues that can be directly linked to neoliberal policies and institutions, and can be hugely damaging to Southern countries. For example, developing countries lose $1 trillion a year in illicit financial flows arising from crime, corruption and tax havens used by corporations. This represents a major loss of revenue by developing countries and is already ten times the amount of foreign aid these countries are receiving. What many of these nations need, therefore, more than anything else is for Northern governments and institutions to get off their backs and allow them to plot their own path to development.
Walden Bello has argued that we need to complement the post-2015 development framework with ‘a critical exercise in development assessment’ that will ‘illuminate the structural causes of poverty and underdevelopment’. Worsening levels of inequality and the existential threat of climate change mean that we can not afford a 15 year period in which new development goals are used to mask the real undercurrents of poverty.
We need the awakening of a critical consciousness that engages the public with the structural causes of poverty and pressures governments to change tack. The post-2015 policy agenda will not be achieved if it simply becomes a ‘measuring rod in poverty reduction’. We need a concerted education programme mounted by the development sector that names and challenges neoliberalism as an unsustainable and grossly unfair means of propelling development. As Paulo Freire suggested, education is the means by which ‘men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world’.
Bello, Walden (2015) ‘Post-2015 Development Assessment: Proposed Goals and Indicators’ in G McCann and S McCloskey, From the Local to the Global: Key Issues in Development Studies, 3rd edition, London and New York: Pluto Press.
Biron, Carey (2013) ‘Developing countries lose $1tn a year from 'illicit financial flows', Guardian, 13 December, available: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/dec/13/developing-countries-illicit-financial-flows (accessed 31 March 2015).
DFID (2013), ‘Statistics at DFID’, available: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/142459/SID-2012-Key-Statistics.pdf, (accessed 6 June 2013).
Ford, Liz (2015) ‘Sustainable development goals: all you need to know’, Guardian, 19 January, available: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jan/19/sustainable-development-goals-united-nations, (accessed 31 March 2015).
Freire, Paulo (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, London: Penguin Books.
Kar, Dev and LeBlanc, Brian (2013) Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries: 2002-2011, Washington DC: Global Financial Integrity, available: http://iff.gfintegrity.org/iff2013/Illicit_Financial_Flows_from_Developing_Countries_2002-2011-HighRes.pdf, (accessed 31 March 2015).
Klein, Naomi. (2014) This Changes Everything: Capitalism v the Climate, London and New York: Allen Lane.
National Audit Office (2012) ‘How much support did the Government provide to UK Banks?’, available: http://www.nao.org.uk/highlights/taxpayer-support-for-uk-banks-faqs/, (accessed 8 April 2015).
Oxfam (2015) ‘Wealth: Having it all and wanting more’, available: http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/file_attachments/ib-wealth-having-all-wanting-more-190115-en.pdf, (accessed 6 February 2015).
A longer version of this article appears in the Issue 20 of Policy and Practice: A Development Education Review.
Stephen McCloskey is Director of the Centre for Global Education and editor of Policy and Practice: A Development Education Review. This article is based on contributions to the forthcoming book From the Local to the Global: Key Issues in Development Studies (2015), 3rd edition, London and New York: Pluto Press (edited with Gerard McCann).
You can probably best judge a country by its response to a crisis. In the case of Ebola, President Obama has called for the deployment of SWAT Teams within 24 hours to any hospital in the United States reporting a new case of Ebola. Is this the best way to respond to a medical crisis? As The Observer has suggested: ‘western governments have appeared more focused on stopping the epidemic at their borders than actually stemming it in west Africa’. Britain, for example, has set up enhanced screening for Ebola at its main airports but these measures appear unlikely to stop the spread of the disease which can be carried for up to three weeks before symptoms are exhibited.
By contrast, Cuba has responded to the crisis with a spirit of solidarity that has characterised its relationship with the African continent for five decades. A brigade of 165 Cuban health workers has already been dispatched to Sierra Leone, the first cohort of a total of 461 that will be sent to treat Ebola victims where the need is greatest. They are among 50,000 Cuban-trained medical staff operating in 66 countries across the world, a remarkable global contribution from a small, island nation of 11 million people subjected to a 54 year old US blockade. Last October, the blockade was condemned for the 23rd consecutive year by the United Nations General Assembly with a near unanimous 188 countries backing Cuba and just Israel standing with the US. Havana estimates that the financial costs of the blockade over more than five decades has been $116 billion, making Cuba’s investment in healthcare and education, both at home and overseas, all the more laudable.
Cuba’s international solidarity activities in Africa have been ongoing since the early 1960s; an estimated 40,000 Africans have studied on full scholarships in Cuba since then and medical schools have been established in several African states including Ethiopia, Gambia and Uganda. Cuba has supported several anti-colonial movements in Africa and, famously, helped to defeat apartheid-South African forces in Angola. In 1991, Nelson Mandela visited Cuba and paid tribute to its selfless behaviour in supporting the fight against colonialism and apartheid in South Africa.
Several European powers have a more exploitative historical relationship with African states based on colonialism and oppression.
And even in the post-colonial period Europe and North America remain mired in unfair relations with many African states through unjust trading relations and a crippling debt crisis caused by western financial institutions. He said that: ‘The decisive defeat of the aggressive apartheid forces [in Angola] destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor’, adding that ‘The defeat of the apartheid army served as an inspiration to the struggling people of South Africa’. This colonial and re-colonial history is often ignored in contemporary attitudes toward Africa that are still regularly framed by negative stereotypes regarding poverty and underdevelopment on the continent which will no doubt be further fuelled by the Ebola crisis. For example, Laura Seay and Kim Yi Dionne in the Washington Post have condemned a Newsweek (August 2014) cover image of a chimpanzee with a headline ‘A Back Door for Ebola’. They placed the image ‘squarely in the center of a long and ugly tradition of treating Africans as savage animals and the African continent as a dirty, diseased place to be feared’.
It should be a matter of concern for development educators 30 years on from Band Aid and its attendant stereotypes of starving Africans that we are still confronted by similar attitudes today. These damaging perceptions of Africa have seemingly informed the western response to the Ebola crisis which appears to be one of keeping Africa at arm’s length through isolation and screening rather than providing practical assistance on the ground. Perhaps they could learn some lessons in solidarity from Cuba and recall the words of Nelson Mandela when he asked: ‘What other country has such a history of selfless behavior as Cuba has shown for the people of Africa?’
There is a new mural on the International Wall on the Falls Road in West Belfast dedicated to the children of Gaza who have been subjected to their third Israeli onslaught in six years. The mural draws upon what is possibly the most iconic and powerful image from the Vietnam War; that of a heavily burnt naked child (Kim Phúc) running down a road after a napalm attack on her village. It captures in an instant the effects of lethal, indiscriminately applied force on defenceless civilians which is something we have witnessed repeatedly in the Gaza Strip since Israel launched its ‘Operation Protective Edge’ on 8 July.
In launching the mission, the Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu said that Hamas would “pay a heavy price” for allegedly abducting and killing three settlers in the West Bank on 12 June. Despite a crackdown in the West Bank in response to the abduction of the settlers that saw 10 Palestinians killed and 500 arrested, Israel commenced bombing Gaza with F-16s, Apache helicopters and un-manned drones.This has been followed-up by a ground campaign that has committed troops and tanks into civilian areas and has left the world aghast at the horror that has unfolded. From Belfast to Sydney, London to Toronto, Paris to Washington people have come out on the streets in tens of thousands to ask who is paying the “heavy price” of Israel’s war?
Reporting the casualties in Gaza is a problem because the death toll is constantly rising but, at the time of writing, there have been 1,300 fatalities, more than 80% of whom are civilians including 240 children. 7,000 have been injured and 215,000 internally displaced people have taken refuge in 81 United Nations-run schools. Despite flying under a UN flag, six of these schools have been attacked and other civilian targets - 18 health facilities, 85 schools and 2,200 houses - have been destroyed. There is simply no hiding place from the bombardment with Israel designating 44% of Gaza a ‘no-go zone’ as if the remaining 66% was any more secure. When the Israeli military laid waste to the neighbourhood of Shujaiyeh on 19 July, a Palestinian couple moved their four daughters to their grandfather’s house in Gaza city thinking it would offer them more protection. The girls were killed by an Israeli shell while playing on the roof of the house. Another family left bereft by trying to second guess Israel’s military intentions. The reality is that there is nothing surgical about bombing an area of 360 sq kms with a population of 1.7million people.
The Centre for Global Education in Gaza
The Centre has been working in Gaza since 2011 delivering development education projects to children in partnership with a Palestinian NGO called the Canaan Institute. The projects have two objectives: to supplement education provision for children, most of whom attend school for half a day because of a lack of school buildings; and to provide psycho-social support to children suffering the effects of conflict related trauma. Both projects ended in May and I travelled to Gaza on 19 May to meet the facilitators and children, assess project delivery and plan future activities. Over five weeks I travelled the length and breadth of Gaza and visited the six community centres in which the Centre’s projects were delivered: Beit Lahia, Bureij, Deir al-Balah, Khan Yunis, Maghazi and Nuiserat. I spoke with Kholoud, a child psychologist who told me that children’s trauma has resulted from constant exposure to conflict and the strained domestic life caused by grinding poverty.
I met Kasem, a 12 year old boy in Deir al-Balah who became deeply traumatised by seeing five of his neighbours killed by a helicopter attack in his neighbourhood. He became withdrawn, quiet, difficult to control in school and at home, taking little interest in the life around him. Kholoud said that trauma manifests itself through a range of behaviours: difficulty in concentrating in school, bed-wetting, becoming violent, swearing, a constant state of fear and tension, or retreating into themselves. How many children will be traumatised by what they have seen in Gaza over the past two weeks? Who is really paying the “heavy price” of Israel’s war?
I visited Gaza’s eight refugee camps which are densely populated housing blocks in warrens of narrow streets with slab upon slab of concrete headed skyward given the lack of physical space to expand on the ground. Most of Gaza’s citizens are refugees forced from their homes in the 1948 ‘Nakba’ or catastrophe when Israel began the colonisation of their land. They are highly impoverished and mostly dependent on food aid provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN mission established in 1950 to provide for the welfare of Palestinian refugees.
Their economic situation has deteriorated further since Israel imposed an economic siege on Gaza in 2007 in response to the election of a Hamas government the year before. The siege has reduced to a trickle the amount of food, medicines, construction material and other day-to-day necessities entering Gaza. The economy has flatlined as Gaza can neither import nor export goods to any meaningful level and unemployment has spiked to around 50 percent. It is the Israeli siege that underpins the current conflict and needs to be lifted without delay. It is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention and represents collective punishment. As Save the Children puts it: “The blockade has been the single greatest contributor to endemic and long-lasting household poverty in Gaza.” Israel claims that it maintains the siege to stop rocket attacks from Gaza but seven years on from the imposition of the blockade and three wars later – “Protective Edge” following on from “Pillar of Cloud” (2012) and “Cast Lead” (2008-09) – this strategy has failed. By removing the restrictions on people and goods in and out of Gaza – thereby acceding to basic, fundamental rights – Israel is much more likely to stem missile attacks from Gaza.
Ending the conflict
The immediate objective for all those concerned with the crisis in Gaza should be to bring about a cessation in hostilities and then to ensure an enduring peace. Our politicians have been depressingly slow to respond to the massive public response to the slaughter in Gaza. The European Union and United States, key Israeli allies have reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself while “urging restraint” in its operations in Gaza. This is a de facto green light to Israel to continue its campaign and will undoubtedly result in further casualties.
We have gone past the point of issuing statements and platitudes to one where immediate action is demanded. The Taoiseach Enda Kenny should expel Israeli diplomatic staff from Ireland until the aggression in Gaza is ended and siege is lifted. The Taoiseach should also unilaterally initiate an Irish ban on imports from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs has stated that "Israeli settlement activity is illegal under international law…and an obstacle to peace”. Many church and civil society groups in Ireland and around the world have supported the call for a ban on settlement imports and now is the time for the Irish government to take that important step.
The development sector in Britain and Ireland has not been vocal enough in calling for emergency support for Gaza. The Disasters and Emergency Committee (DEC) in Britain has not yet launched an emergency appeal for Gaza despite the enormity of the crisis and huge reconstruction effort that will need to follow any ceasefire. In Ireland too we have yet to hear a united development sector voice calling for an end to the war in Gaza and condemning Israel’s actions. This is despite a petition with 6,000 Irish names being handed into the Foreign Minister, Charlie Flannagan, by Sadaka - the Ireland Palestine Alliance - condemning Israel’s bombardment of the people of Gaza “in the strongest possible terms” and calling for Ireland to take action to stop Israel’s “war crimes".
Ireland’s abstention on a UN vote on whether to launch an investigation into allegations of Israeli war crimes in Gaza was a new low in Irish diplomacy and does not reflect the level of public anger and concern at the death toll in Gaza. We need more public action – protests, e-mails, phonecalls, social media work - to stop the conflict, lift the siege and remove the possibility of Gaza confronting another war in the future. As the Irish Times put it: “The international community must step up its efforts to secure a swift and enduring ceasefire that will bring to an end the slaughter of the innocents we are witnessing in Gaza.”
Edmund Burke famously said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (sic) to do nothing”. Has this quotation ever been more fully vindicated than in these past weeks in Gaza? Let’s all resolve to take action to stop this bloodshed.
Sign this petition calling on the Irish government and all Irish elected representatives expel Israeli diplomats in protest over the slaughter in Gaza. There are already over 5,500 signatures.
Support CGE Emergency Appeal for Gaza:
The Centre for Global Education has responded to a call from our partner organisation in Gaza, the Canaan Institute, to launch an emergency appeal for donations to provide emergency supplies of food and water to some of Gaza’s 140,000 internally displaced civilians. Many of these people fled their homes with nothing but the clothes on their back. Many will have no homes to go back to. You can make a donation here: https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/centreforglobaleducation
Protest: The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign carries details of protests and vigils being held across the island of Ireland. To find out where the nearest protest is to you click on this link: http://www.ipsc.ie/press-releases/all-out-for-paletsine-ongoing-actions-for-gaza-around-ireland-updated-when-we-have-updates
Two conflicting narratives have dominated the aftermath of the financial crisis, particularly over the past year. On the one hand, the Irish and British governments are suggesting that we are over the worst and on the path to a more prosperous future and, on the other, frontline care providers speak of people cut adrift by the state and left in highly vulnerable, dangerous and impoverished conditions. Barometers of this impoverishment include rising homelessness, the distribution of food parcels and hot meals to those on the poverty threshold, and the use of foodbanks. Statistics on foodbank use in the UK released by the Trussell Trust for 2013-14 showed over 900,000 people in crisis being provided with emergency food. This total represented a 163 percent increase on usage compared to the previous year with the number of new foodbanks (45 percent increase) unable to keep pace with demand.
Food banks in north of Ireland
In the north of Ireland, there was a dramatic leap of foodbanks users from 1,987 in 2012-13 to 11,697 in
2013-14 with the number of foodbanks increasing from just one in 2011 to the
current figure of 15. More alarming still is the suggestion from Chris Mould, Chairman of the Trussell Trust, that these figures represent the tip of the iceberg as they don’t “include those helped by other emergency providers, those living in towns where there is no foodbank, people who are too ashamed to seek help or the large number of people who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food”. A survey conducted by the Trussell Trust and Netmums of 2,178 working families in March 2014 showed that: one in five working parents had to choose between paying an essential bill or putting food on the table within the past year; 43 percent are “just about coping” with balancing family budgets; and 1 in 40 had used a foodbank with 70 percent saying they would only do so as a “last resort”.
Trussell Trust food banks operate on a referral basis where clients can receive vouchers from a frontline care professional. Each voucher can be redeemed for three days emergency food which can be accessed on three occasions. At the same time, clients are signposted to agencies that can provide more long-term solutions to their problems. The food is donated by schools, churches, businesses, individuals and through supermarket collections. There are now 423 Trussell Trust food banks in the UK with two new foodbanks opening every week generated by 8,000 tonnes of donated food and staffed by 30,000 volunteers.
Food banks in the south of Ireland
The main distributor of food through food banks in the south of Ireland is the charity Crosscare based in Dublin. Crosscare has operated a food distribution warehouse since 1989 which has supplied food to charities such as St Vincent de Paul, Dublin Simon, Focus Ireland and its own centres for the homeless. Given the worsening economic situation in Ireland and increasing demand for emergency food aid, Crosscare established four new community food banks in Blanchardstown, Bray, Swords and Tallaght. Crosscare estimates that 60 families per week receive support from each food bank and has plans to open more food banks in Carlow and Cork. In 2013, Crosscare distributed 450 tonnes of redistributed food providing over 180,000 meals based on the calculation that 1 tonne supplies 400 meals. This surplus food is supplied by manufacturers, retailers and distributors and much of it is normally used as animal feed by pig farmers and has been diverted to families in need.
Additional providers of emergency food aid in the south of Ireland include Twist Soup Kitchen Ireland which have opened premises in Athlone, Galway, Roscommon, Sligo and Tuam which are collectively feeding 300 people daily. The Capuchin Day Centre run by the Franciscan Order provides nearly 600 meals a day six days a week as well as distributing 1,200 food parcels weekly. The food poverty charity, Healthy Food for All, estimates that one in ten people are living in food poverty in Ireland which is defined as ‘the inability to have an adequate and nutritious diet due to issues of affordability and access to food with related impacts on health, culture and social participation”. A common message beating out from all of these charities and community groups is that the pressure on their services is growing as the economic recession deepens.
Explaining demand for food banks
The Trussell Trust and other emergency food providers identify several factors that have explained the spike in food bank use. These include: static incomes, rising living costs, low pay, under-employment and problems with benefits. The latter is particularly prominent in the UK due to changes in the welfare system such as the Bedroom Tax and increasingly harsh benefit sanctions which can result in the withdrawal of payments. The Trussell Trust has found that “83 percent of food banks surveyed reported that benefits sanctions, which have become increasingly harsh, have caused more people to be referred to them for emergency food in the last year”. Food prices are another important determinant in explaining food bank use. A report from Advice NI found that “households in Northern Ireland came the closest to any UK region to spending 10% of their income on food” with the annual household bill in2012 “joint-highest with London at £3,201”.
The rising use of food banks should be a wake-up call for governments to rethink austerity programmes and welfare reforms that are removing the safety blankets put in place after the Second World War to protect those most exposed to market forces. Food banks are used reluctantly by the majority of users in times of real distress and probably signify a deeper and more widespread level of need that will become more manifest going forward. If food banks become increasingly institutionalised and woven into community life we may simply manage the problem of food shortages rather than address the deeper structural causes of economic injustice which give rise to these shortages. To remove the need for food banks we need to change trajectory away from the naked neoliberalism that caused the economic crisis in the first instance and the austerity-driven economic progamme that is clearly failing to address this crisis.
Advice, ‘Turning the Tide: The Growth of Food Banks in Northern Ireland’, December 2013, available: http://www.debtactionni.net/sites/default/files/resources/AdviceNI%20Food%20Banks%20Policy%20paper.pdf, accessed 13 May 2014.
Capuchin Day Centre, http://www.capuchinfranciscans.ie/
Crosscare Food Bank, available: http://www.crosscare.ie/crosscarefoodbank.ie/, accessed: 13 May 2014.
Healthy Food for All, http://healthyfoodforall.com/food-poverty/
Trussell Trust Foodbank End of Financial Year Figures 2013-14 – Northern Ireland, 16 April 2014.
Trussell Trust, “Record Numbers turn to Foodbanks in Northern Ireland: Life has got worse not better for poorest in 2013/14, 16 April 2014.
Trusell Trust web site contains a range of statistics on food bank use, available: http://www.trusselltrust.org/foodbank-projects, accessed 13 May 2014.
Twist Soup Kitchen, http://www.twistsoupkitchen.org/
On 12 December 2013, a wedding party in Radda, capital of Yemen’s al-Bayda province was struck by an American drone. The media reported fatalities ranged from 10 to 17 with an additional 30 people wounded in the attack. The drone struck a convoy of vehicles returning from a wedding when it seems the intended targets were members of al Qaeda. This deadly attack came seven months after a speech by President Obama in which he pledged to ‘extend oversight of lethal actions’ and raise the threshold for the use of drones toward ensuring the protection of civilians. He said ‘my administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists - insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability.’ He added that ‘before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured - the highest standard we can set.’ The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) which closely monitors the use of drones has found that covert drone strikes have killed more people in the six months following President Obama’s speech than the six months bein the gathering of intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance. Since 1999, however, they have been used in a more deadly role in ‘extraterritorial lethal counter-terrorism operations’ which the Guardian’s Seumas Milne describes as double speak for extrajudicial summary executions and ‘a wanton and criminal killing spree’. The chief advantage of drones to the US military says Milne is that they ‘can continue to demonstrate global authority and impunity without boots on the ground and loss of US life.’
President Obama has ‘insisted on strong oversight of all lethal action’ and drones have become very much a weapon of choice for his administration. He has accelerated the use of drones to a level that exceeds his famously neo-conservative predecessor George W Bush. Between 2004 and 2009, the Bush administration ordered 52 drone strikes that killed 438, of whom 182 were civilians and 112 children. By contrast the Obama administration has launched 300 strikes between 2009 and 2012 killing 2,152, of whom 290 were civilians and 64 children. In confirming that this is a personal crusade for Obama, the New York Times reported that he oversees a counter-terrorism meeting every Tuesday in the White House Situation Room ‘approving every new name on an expanding “kill list”’.
Obama argues that ‘Conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones, and are likely to cause more civilian casualties and more local outrage.’ However, Larry Lewis, a principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, has studied air strikes in Afghanistan from mid-2010 to mid-2011. His study ‘found that drone strikes in Afghanistan during a year of the protracted conflict caused 10 times more civilian casualties than strikes by manned fighter aircraft.’ The recent strike in Yemen and overall civilian toll resulting from drone attacks flatly refute Obama’s claims for the ‘precision’ of drones. The BIJ estimates a death toll in Pakistan since 2004 at between 2,537 and 3,646 with civilian casualties between 416 and 951. In Yemen the estimated total ranges between 287 and 423 over the past decade, of whom 24-71 were civilians. The lack of precise data on casualties results from the evasion and unaccountability of states using drones. A recent report by United Nations’ Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson ‘found that the single greatest obstacle to an evaluation of the civilian impact of drone strikes is lack of transparency, which makes it extremely difficult to assess claims of precision targeting objectively.’ The report recommends that the US ‘release its own data on the level of civilian casualties inflicted through the use of remotely piloted aircraft, together with information on the evaluation methodology used.’
But the US is not the only state guilty of human rights abuses perpetrated through the use of drones. The UN Rapporteur cited Israel for using drones in the Gaza Strip, most notably during Operation Cast Lead, from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, and Operation Pillar of Defence, from 14 to 21 November 2012. Both operations resulted in heavy civilian casualties and targeted non-military buildings such as houses and schools. Moreover, a report launched in December 2013 by War on Want UK reveals that the British government ‘is importing Israel’s drone technologies to be integrated into its armed forces.’ These technologies, the report alleges, have been ‘field tested’ on Palestinians and are part of a lucrative British-Israeli military collaboration that currently runs to 381 UK extant arms licences to Israel worth £7.8 billion’. These licences are issued ‘Despite previous British government statements that it cannot accept Israeli assurances that British arms will not be deployed against civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.’
The deployment of drones therefore seems set to widen despite repeated warnings from human rights groups, non-governmental organisations and the UN that these weapons are lethal, indiscriminate and terrorise civilian populations. A report by Stanford and New York universities, Living Under Drones, argues that civilians are terrorised 24 hours a day by drone attacks ‘giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities’. The report challenges the ‘dominant narrative’ that drones are a ‘surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killings” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false.’ The report is based on research in Pakistan and concludes that the number of ‘high-level targets’ killed in that country as a percentage of total casualties is just 2 percent. It goes on to argue that ‘US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks’.
Drones are therefore not only failing in their stated aims of targeting terrorists and reducing civilian casualties in countries subject to attack by these unmanned aircraft ,but are rapidly filling the ranks of the very organisations such as al Qaeda and the Taliban that they are purportedly trying to defeat. According to RT, a former State Department official in Yemen has claimed ‘that every US drone killing of an Al-Qaeda operative there creates 40-60 new enemies of America.’ Thus, far from tightening the security of American, British and Israeli citizens, the deployment of drones only makes them more vulnerable to the extremism and hatred stirred by their use. It is therefore in the interests of all citizens in the global North and South that these weapons be withdrawn from use.
To find out about some of the actions that can be taken to hasten the end of drone attacks visit the web site of the Drones Campaign Network (DCN), ‘a UK-based network of organisations, academics and individuals working together to share information and coordinate collective action in relation to military drones.’ You can also support War on Want UK’s action to end European Union support of Israel’s arm companies and campaign to stop the UK’s arming of Israel.
Bureau of Investigative Journalism, ‘Drone strikes in Yemen’, 26 November 2013, available: http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2013/11/26/new-analysis-questions-constraint-on-us-drone-strikes/, accessed 16 January 2014.
Drone Campaign Network: campaigning to ground the drones, available: http://dronecampaignnetwork.wordpress.com/, accessed 16 January 2014.
Guardian, ‘US drones more deadly to Afghan citizens than manned aircraft – adviser’, 2 July 2013, available: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/02/us-drone-strikes-afghan-civilians, accessed 16 January 2014.
Guardian, ‘Britain is up to its neck in US dirty wars and death squads’, 4 December 2013, available: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/04/britain-up-to-neck-in-us-dirty-wars-on-terror, accessed 16 January 2014.
New York Times, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will”, 29 May 2012, available: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0, accessed 16 January 2014.
Russia Today, “Fatal error in ‘wedding party’ drone strike prompts UN condemnation”, available: http://rt.com/news/un-us-yemen-drones-860/, accessed 17 January 2014.
Russia Today, “Drone attacks ‘create more enemies with every innocent person killed’”, 19 November 2013, available: http://rt.com/op-edge/us-drone-attacks-killings-953/, accessed 17 January 2014.
Russia Today, “‘Drone strikes killed more civilians than publicly acknowledged’ – UN investigator”, 18 October 2013, available: http://rt.com/news/un-drones-report-afghanistan-us-366/, accessed 16 January 2014.
Stanford and New York Universities, ‘Living under Drones: death, injury and trauma to civilians from US drone practices in Pakistan’, 2012, available: http://chrgj.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Living-Under-Drones.pdf, accessed 07 July 2016.
United Nations General Assembly, ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism’, 18 September 2013, available: http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i/msnbc/sections/news/UN_Drones_Report.pdf, accessed 16 January 2014.
War on Want UK, ‘Killer Drones: UK complicity in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people’, December 2013, available: http://www.waronwant.org/attachments/Killer%20Drones,%20War%20on%20Want.pdf, accessed 16 January 2014.
White House Office of the Press Secretary, ‘Remarks by the President at the National Defense University’, 23 May 2013, available: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/05/23/remarks-president-national-defense-university, accessed 17 January 2014.
Centre for Global Education, 22 January 2014
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Philip French, who recently retired as film critic for The Observer after 50 years of insightful and informative reviews, described cinema as ‘the great art form of the 20th century’ and suggested that ‘this century is continuing the same way’. Cinema continues to enjoy a popular status in our cultural lives despite the multitude of digital and online access points for movies and television at home. We still enjoy the social activity of cinema-going and the opportunity to view films on the big screen. Given its capacity as a conveyor of knowledge, images, messages and issues to a large, international audience, film has immense importance to development practitioners yet according to Lewis et al remains an ‘under-studied medium for development knowledge’ (2013: 20). In an interesting research working paper, Lewis et al consider the role that film has played in considering ‘key themes within the landscape of global inequalities and power relationships’ (ibid). They contrast how a range of movies from popular entertainments to more serious-minded fare represent the global South and convey development issues.
On the positive side, the paper finds merit in a series of films released in the early 1980s that challenged the prevailing neoliberal ideology and its outworkings in the global South. Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), Costa-Gravas’s Missing (1982), Roger Spottiswoode’s Under Fire (1983) and Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986) all questioned the destabilising intervention of the United States (US) in the global South, particularly in Latin America. These movies adhered to the structural device of viewing these societies in crisis through the experiences of Western outsiders but offered critical voices of the machinations of US foreign policy within popular narrative frames. They bear interesting comparison with Kathryn Bigelow’s more recent commentaries on US militarism and foreign policy, The Hurt Locker (2008) and Zero Dark Thirty (2012) that are studiedly ambiguous about the United States’ ‘war on terror’ to the point that, in the latter, the use of torture is neither confronted nor condemned. Both films received Oscars and widespread critical acclaim which may reflect the fact that the pendulum has swung very much to the right in a post-9/11 America.
On the negative side, the paper bemoans the lack of social and economic complexity in mainstream films which can sometimes trivialise or marginalise important issues central to underdevelopment. They can also reinforce stereotypes of the colonial ‘Other’ devoid of agency and dependent on the intervention of the ‘West’. Alternatively, the global South can be reduced to the role of scenery and back drop to Western experiences. A particularly crude recent example of such reductionism was The Impossible (2012) which told the story of an English family caught up in the 2004 tsunami while on holiday in Thailand. The
infrastructural devastation wreaked on the local population plays second fiddle to the plight of the tourists who by the end of the movie gratefully depart the chaos below aboard a chartered jet.
developing world often addressing issues with which they have first-hand knowledge.
Perhaps the high-water mark of movies that portray life in its full social, economic and cultural complexity is the canon of Satyajit Ray, the Bengali writer, composer, editor, artist and film director. His most celebrated films are The Apu Trilogy (1955-59) that chart the life of a rural Bengal family. These films neither sentimentalise or judge it's impoverished characters and continue to resonate today in their consideration of issues including gender, faith, education and poverty in rural and urban contexts. ‘The result’, said Philip French, ‘proved to be an enduring, humanistic masterpiece, specific in its setting, universal in its appeal’.
More recent movies from the South that have achieved international prominence
identified by Lewis et al include City of God (2002) which vividly depicts violence on
the streets of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and appeared to acquire a veracity in its
treatment of urban violence not entirely deserved. Lewis et al claim the film is ‘riddled with stereotypes’ and contains ‘critically flawed ideas about gangs and gang members’ (10). They suggest that movies made in the South can sometimes be taken in the North as ‘quasi-documentary’ which point to a ‘collective condition’; a dangerous assumption that development educators need to be aware of when using film with learners.
So, what do the reflections of Lewis et al say about the possibilities of film in development practice, particularly development education? Well, they argue that as a medium film is alluring and popular and, at their best, can communicate important social issues to large audiences without resorting to didacticism. However, they argue that ‘narrative structure, and cinematographic imperatives being what they are, facts frequently have to give way to dramatic effect’ (10). Educators have to evaluate the capacity of films to inform the audience while being cognisant of the corners sometimes cut by film-makers in terms of substance, accuracy and context. While there could be a temptation to accept that films from the South are produced with due attention paid to ‘factual detail and historical accuracy’, we should not forget that Satyajit Ray was inspired to make The Apu Trilogy after seeing Italian director Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948). There are film-makers of value in the North and South committed to social realism and passionate about the role of film in uncovering injustice and inequality wherever it lurks.
The ‘brief treatment’ by Lewis et al on the cinematic representation of development identifies several issues that could be investigated in further research including:
We could add to this list the considerable role played by documentary film-making in taking up development issues, particularly in a ‘golden age’ when the availability of cheap equipment is democratising what can be a top-down, corporate-driven art form. This is best exemplified by the Oscar nominated Five Broken Cameras (2011) which chronicled frontline accounts of the non-violent direct actions by Palestinian farmers resisting Israeli occupation of their village in the West Bank. The documentary form is continually being stretched and reinvented and seems perfectly suited to the needs of development educators both as a source of learning resources and means of film-making.
This would appear to be an opportune time to evaluate the role of film as a teaching tool ‘for bringing alive and humanizing important, if inherently vexing, global issues’ (22). With this in mind, the next issue of Policy and Practice, the Centre for Global Education’s journal, will explore how film can strengthen development education practice and engage new audiences in the development process.
Lewis, David, Rodgers, Dennis and Woolcock, Michael (2013), ‘The Projection of Development: Cinematic Representation as An(other) Source of Authoritative Knowledge’, Policy Research Working Paper 6491, The World Bank Development Research Group Poverty and Inequality Team, June 2013, available:
http://goo.gl/RDDx7s (accessed 10 September 2013).
Guardian, ‘Camera, laptop, action: the new golden age of documentary’, 7 November 2010, available:
http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/nov/07/documentary-digital-revolution-sean-ohagan (accessed 10 September 2013).
The Observer, ‘That's a wrap: Philip French, Observer film critic, steps down after 50 years’, 4 May 2013, available: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/may/04/philip-french-observer-film, (accessed 10 September 2013).
The Observer, ‘The Apu Trilogy’, 2 July 2006, available: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2006/jul/02/philipfrenchsdvdclub.philipfrench (accessed 8 September 2013).